The owner of Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods, Inc. in Skagway, and a seasonal employee who works there are facing federal misdemeanor charges of misrepresentation of Indian produced goods. According to court documents filed Thursday, they sold crafts that were based on Alaska Native designs, under the guise of actually being made by an Alaska Native artist, when, in fact, they were not.
According to court documents filed with the U.S. Attorney’s office, store owner Rosemary Libert and her employee Judy Gengler misled customers when selling Native-style art in Skagway. Libert is one of four Southeast business owners charged Thursday for the offense after a sting operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, it is illegal to offer, display or sell goods that deceptively suggest they were made by a Native person. The artist has be a member of a tribe or “certified” by a Native tribe as a non-member artisan.
The court documents recount a web of conflicting information given by Libert and Gengler about the origin of a piece of art for sale in the store.
In July, 2014, an undercover Fish and Wildlife agent approached Gengler who was working at Lynch and Kennedy on Broadway Street, and inquired about a carving made of bone. Court documents said the agent knew the piece was not carved by an Alaska Native or certified artist. The charging documents go on to say that Gengler falsely represented the carving saying that it was made by a “Native or First Nation and Eskimo.”Gengler offered to sell the carving to the agent for $2,000, but the agent left and returned a short time later.
When he returned, the agent told Gengler that the artist was not Alaska Native or Inupiaq, but was from Cambodia. Gengler pulled out a biography on the artist and responded that yes, the artist was from Cambodia, but was adopted into a family in Juneau and given an “Eskimo” name.
Two months later, a different Fish and Wildlife agent approached Gengler in the store and identified himself as a federal employee. He asked about the same carving and Gengler told him the artist was not Native and not a member of any tribe, and they had no biography on the artist.
That same month, the undercover agent then emailed Libert asking about the piece. She told him the carver was a native to Alaska, as in he’s lived in the state for a long time, but not Alaska Native. In June of 2015, almost a year after the initial contact, the undercover agent went back into the store and asked about the carving. Libert told him it was crafted by a person who was “Eskimo” and “Alaska Native.” The agent bought the piece for just over $1,100.
In September of 2015, two Fish and Wildlife agents contacted Libert and asked about the carving sold in June. According to court documents, she changed her story again, and told them the artist was not Alaska Native or a member of any tribe.
Gengler and Libert are both charged with one count each of misrepresenting Indian produced goods. Arraignment for both women is scheduled for April 18.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt confirmed Friday that Libert was one of four business owners, or employees, charged in the sting.
“There was North Star Gifts, which is in Juneau, as well as Diamond Island, which is also in Juneau, and the other business that was charge, or the other individual that was charged that was associated with a business was Alaskan Heritage out of Ketchikan,” Schmidt said .
Schmidt said the catalyst for the investigation was years of complaints against the businesses trying to pawn off goods as Native art.
“This was a targeted effort throughout Southeast. Just by the number of cases in the different areas, this is a concern for the government and something we’ll keep tabs on,” he said.
The maximum penalty for the charge is one year in jail or $100,000, with up to five years of probation or one year of supervised release.
A call to Libert at her Skagway store was not returned by press time.