For decades, customers interested in all kinds of rarities – ancient coins, sarcophagus masks, prehistoric fossils – have visited Mehrdad Sadigh’s Gallery near the Empire State Building in Manhattan. The items came with certificates of authenticity, and the gallery’s website was filled with accolades from clients who appreciated the gracious touch he brought to his business.
“Everything I have gained from you over the years has more than exceeded my expectations,” one testimonial read.
But Mr Sadigh admitted at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday that much of his antiques business was an elaborate scam.
“Over three decades, I have sold thousands of fraudulent antiques to countless unsuspecting collectors,” he said, according to the statement he read to the State Supreme Court of Manhattan, adding, “I can only say I was motivated by financial greed.”
Most of the items he was selling weren’t century-old artifacts discovered overseas and imported to New York City, investigators said, but were rather fake specimens, mass-produced in a maze of offices just behind his room. exposure.
Mr. Sadigh pleaded guilty to seven counts, including counterfeiting and robbery charges. In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, the district attorney’s office requested that Mr Sadigh, who has no history of arrest, be sentenced to five years probation and further disqualification. never be involved in the sale of antiques, “both genuine and fake.”
Describing his scheme in court, Mr Sadigh said that to cover up his deceptions, he hired a company to report, delete and bury Google search results and online reviews suggesting that part of what he had sold could be inauthentic.
Mr Sadigh also admitted to getting others to post glowing, but bogus, reviews of his gallery, inventing dozens of grateful clients.
After Mr Sadigh’s arrest in August, prosecutors said he appeared to be one of the country’s largest suppliers of fake artifacts, based on his “substantial financial gains” and the longevity of his business. .
Founded in 1978 as a small mail order business, according to a Mr. Sadigh gallery website, the gallery moved in 1982 to the top floor of a building on Fifth Avenue and East 31st Street. . From there, Mr. Sadigh offered for sale items that he said were ancient Anatolians, Babylonians, Byzantines, Greco-Romans, Mesopotamians and Sumerians.
Prosecutors said undercover federal investigators purchased a gold pendant depicting Tutankhamun’s death mask and a marble portrait head of an ancient Roman woman – paying $ 4,000 each – from Mr Sadigh’s gallery.
These sales became the basis for a visit to the gallery by members of the district attorney’s office and investigations of the Department of Homeland Security. Officials said they found hundreds of fake artifacts on display and thousands more in back rooms at various stages of preparation.
Matthew Bogdanos, chief of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, said in August that Mr Sadigh used some sort of assembly line process, involving varnish, spray paints and a sander. tape, which seemed designed to modify contemporary mass products. items so that they appear aged.
On Tuesday in court, Mr Sadigh admitted that the items he sold “had an antique patina due to the paint, chemical processes and the addition of dirt to their surfaces” because it made them look like d ancient treasures recently excavated from archaeological sites.
Mr. Sadigh’s pursuit was a bit of a departure from the Antiques Trafficking Unit, which typically pursues people who sell items that have been looted in places like Afghanistan and Egypt.
Mr Sadigh drew the attention of investigators, Mr Bogdanos said, when traffickers prosecuted for trafficking looted antiques complained about the “guy who sold all the fakes”.