CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) – Smuggling, money laundering and Egyptian mummies! A federal sting has made its way to Central Virginia. There are four suspects and one of the men charged is from Chesterfield County.
Some of the artifacts seized include about one thousand antique coins and an Egyptian sarcophagus dated around 664 to 552 B.C. Three men including a Chesterfield man have been arrested while another fugitive is on the run.
Homeland security agents have uncovered a plot to smuggle cultural artifacts into the United States. Their investigation led to the arrest of antique dealers and collectors in several states, including at least one man in Chesterfield County.
"This case actually encompasses smuggling charges as well as money laundering charges," ICE Special Agent, Brenton Easter. "And it has a bunch of different pieces in antiquities that have been linked to it from different regions in the world."
The dealers charged are from Michigan, New York and Virginia. The suspect from Chesterfield has been identified as 54-year-old Joseph A. Lewis II. Our search of public records led us to a home in southern Chesterfield. Lewis is listed as the owner and resident. As we spoke with neighbors about the Joe Lewis at that address a car spotted our cameras and sped past us into the driveway. No one inside would answer the door but standing on the porch we could clearly see what appeared to be Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls and several life sized Egyptian statues in museum like glass casings.
"Where does he get them from?" asked NBC12's Evrod Cassimy.
"He's traveled all over the world," said one neighbor.
That neighbor knew nothing of an illegal smuggling sting or a federal search of a home in her community.
"This is the culmination of a long-term cultural property investigation," said Easter.
Authorities have seized a Egyptian sarcophagus and other artifacts from the alleged antique smugglers. According to the Wall Street Journal Mr. Lewis pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday in Brooklyn and was released. The collection is estimated at two point five million dollars.