US agents raid California museums in search of looted artifacts

Federal agents raided several Southern California museums in search of Southeast Asian antiquities that are believed to have been illegally obtained, smuggled into the United States and sold at inflated prices so sellers could claim fraudulent tax deductions after donations to the institutions. Agents also investigated American Indian artifacts at one museum Thursday. Search warrants were executed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Authorities said no arrests had been made and no charges had been filed. Court documents portray a five-year scheme in which the owner of a Los Angeles art gallery worked with a smuggler to bring in artifacts from Thailand and China, offered them as charitable contributions and then tried to claim the donations as tax write-offs by boosting their value. In some cases, museum officials initially questioned how the artifacts were obtained but eventually accepted them, according to affidavits filed in support of the search.