Manhattan dealer arrested for running a “fake antiquities mill”

Mehrdad Sadigh, owner of Sadigh Gallery in Manhattan, has been arrested on charges of creating and selling fake antiquities. He has pleaded not guilty, despite a large amount of incriminating evidence presented by the Manhattan District Attorney, to charges of scheming to defraud, grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument, forgery and criminal simulation.

Sadigh Gallery was established in 1978, and has since offered a wide range of antiquities for sale, including items which were supposedly Anatolian, Babylonian, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian and Sumerian. According to the New York Times, Sadigh Gallery’s website, which is no longer active, was offering various items for sale in late 2020 and early 2021, including a mummified falcon apparently dating to 305-30 BC (at a price of $9,000), an Egyptian sarcophagus mask carved from wood dating to 663-525 BC (for $5,000) and an iron and nickel fragment from a meteorite that landed in Mongolia (for $1,500). The site explicitly stated that “all of our antiquities are guaranteed authentic”.

The investigation into Sadigh dates back a few years. In fact, it was a professor and his graduate assistant at the University of Iowa who first suspected the Sadigh Gallery of criminal activities. In 2019, an exhibition about the Rosetta Stone was scheduled to open at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in Iowa. Professor Bjorn Anderson and his graduate assistant Erin Daly became suspicious of many of the items in the upcoming exhibition, which led to Anderson writing to the museum and stating that 90 out of the 125 items in the exhibit, “are either definite or very likely fakes”. Anderson and Daly were sceptical of many of the ancient seals, with Daly commenting to the West Branch Times that “I’ve never seen any that big or that nice”. Anderson and Daly noticed that on the Sadigh Gallery website many seals of a similar quality were for sale. It also became evident that items due to appear in the exhibition had been purchased twenty years prior from Sadigh Gallery.

Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, said in a statement following Sadigh’s arrest earlier this month, that: “For many years, this fake antiquities mill based in midtown Manhattan promised customers rare treasures from the ancient world and instead sold them pieces manufactured on-site in cookie-cutter fashion.” Sadigh’s fake antiquities scheme unravelled after undercover federal investigators purchased items from the gallery, including a gold pendant depicting the death mask of Tutankhamen and a marble portrait head of a Roman woman. These purchases formed the basis for the investigation. A subsequent search of the gallery led to the discovery of hundreds of fake artifacts in shelves and glass cabinets, with thousands more in the rooms behind the gallery, some of which were at varying stages of preparation. The chief of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, Matthew Bogdanos, said that investigators also found varnish, spray paints, a belt sander and mud-like substances of differing hues and consistencies, among other tools and materials.

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