PHOENIX – On Feb. 26, a federal grand jury returned a 38-count indictment against Richard Dennis Nisbet, his daughter Laura Marye Lott, both of Peoria, and Waleed Sarrar, of Chandler, Arizona for their roles in a fraudulent scheme to import Native American-style jewelry and sell it to retail stores and individuals across the southwest United States as authentic jewelry made by Native Americans.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the conspirators allegedly perpetrated the international fraud and money laundering scheme for several years in violation of federal laws, including the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA).
The indictment alleges that Nisbet, age 70, and Lott, age 31, conspired with others to design and manufacture the Native American-style jewelry in the Philippines and import the jewelry to the United States. Lott then allegedly delivered the jewelry to retail stores in Arizona, Texas, and other states and collected payments. Christian Coxon, age 45, of Selma, Texas, was the owner and operator of Turquoise River Trading Company, a jewelry store in San Antonio, Texas that claimed to specialize in Indian-made jewelry. Sarrar, age 43, owned and operated Scottsdale Jewels LLC, a jewelry store in Scottsdale, Arizona that advertised as selling authentic Indian-made jewelry. According to the indictment, Coxon and Sarrar conspired with Nisbet, Lott, and others to pass off imitation jewelry manufactured abroad to the public as authentic Native American-made jewelry. Additionally, Mency Remedio, a factory manager in the Philippines, and Orlando Abellanosa and Ariel Adlawan Canedo, both of whom worked as jewelry smiths in the Philippines for the operation, were also charged with participating in the multi-year fraud and money laundering schemes.
According to the indictment, the defendants and their conspirators used various jewelry businesses — including Last Chance Jewelers and LMN Jewelers — to design and manufacture jewelry in the Native-American style at factories in the Philippines where Filipino jewelry-makers made all of the jewelry. The conspirators allegedly took several measures to ensure that the jewelry resembled authentic Native American-made jewelry, including copying jewelry designs from genuine Native American artists, using traditional Native American motifs and symbols in the jewelry, and stamping the jewelry with the initials of alleged Native American artists.
According to the indictment, the jewelry was then imported into the United States by FedEx, or smuggled into the United States by hand or through the Philippines Postal System, to end destinations in Arizona. From there, it was allegedly advertised and sold to the general public as authentic jewelry made by Native Americans, at jewelry and crafts stores that purported to specialize in Native American pieces. The indictment alleges that none of these jewelry items were indelibly marked with the country of origin as required by customs law.
The IACA prohibits the offer or display for sale, or the sale of any good in a manner that falsely suggests that it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian and Indian tribe. The law is designed to prevent products from being marketed as “Indian made,” when the products are not, in fact, made by Indians. It covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935, and broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. The IACA provides critical economic benefits for Native American cultural development by recognizing that forgery and fraudulent arts and crafts diminish the livelihood of Native American artists and craftspeople by lowering both market prices and standards.