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Four charged in Egyptian artifact smuggle

An indictment was unsealed in federal court in

An indictment was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn charging Mousa Khouli with conspiring to smuggle Egyptian antiquities into the United States and conspiring to launder money in furtherance of smuggling.(July 14, 2011) Credit: None/

A set of Egyptian sarcophagi more than 2,000 years old and ancient funerary boats were among the $2.5 million worth of items seized by federal agents who announced Thursday that four men were charged in a scheme to smuggle cultural artifacts into the United States.

The men, including a Manhattan antiquities dealer, conspired to smuggle the artifacts and to launder money between October 2008 and November 2009, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn.

Those charged include Joseph A. Lewis II, of Chesterfield, Va.; Mousa "Morris" Khouli, who owns Windsor Antiquities in Manhattan; Salem Alshdaifat, a Michigan arts dealer; and Ayman Ramadan, a Jordanian citizen and fugitive living in the United Arab Emirates, authorities said.

Lewis and Khouli were scheduled to be arraigned before Magistrate Judge Andrew L. Carter at the U.S. Courthouse in Brooklyn. Alshdaifat was arraigned Wednesday in Detroit. Each man faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.

Khouli's attorney, Gerald Shargel, declined to comment on the case but said his client would enter a plea of not guilty.

James T. Hayes Jr., the New York special agent in charge of the case for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, said Lewis, a collector of Egyptian artifacts, paid Khouli for a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, an Egyptian sarcophagus with nested layers, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures.

Khouli had acquired the items in deals with Alshdaifat and Ramadan, who has an antiquities company in Dubai, authorities said.

The items were shipped separately from Dubai and smuggled into the United States "using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by U.S. Customs & Border Protection," according to a release from the U.S. attorney's office for Eastern District of New York.

"What's unique here is that Lewis, the individual collector, is part of the smuggling group," Hayes said.

The Greco-Roman style sarcophagus, funerary boats and limestone figures were seized Wednesday in a search of Lewis' Virginia home, authorities said. Also recovered were terra-cotta plaques from Iraq, also more than 2,000 years old.

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