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Three plead guilty to importing fake Native American jewelry

Importing and selling counterfeit Native American-style jewelry violates the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

It is illegal in the U.S. to sell faked or misrepresented Native American products. [Photo Credit: Flickr/Matthew Stinson]

The Justice Department said three individuals on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty in an Arizona district court to importing and selling counterfeit Native American-style jewelry, a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA).

IACA prohibits the offer or display for sale of products that falsely suggest that they were produced by Native Americans or an American Indian tribe.

The three co-conspirators — Laura Marye Wesley (Lott), 32, Christian Coxon, 46, and Waleed “Willie” Sarrar, 44 — each pleaded guilty to one count of misrepresenting Indian goods and wire fraud. Wesley also pleaded guilty to counts of mail fraud and entry of goods by means of false import statements.

According to the Justice Department, the three individuals operated the import scheme from January 2016 to February 2019. The Native American-style jewelry was manufactured in the Philippines, the Justice Department said.

“To perpetrate the fraud scheme, the defendants and their conspirators communicated by phone, text and email, including across state and country borders; used private commercial shipping services such as FedEx to import jewelry from the Philippines to the United States; paid for the jewelry inventory through credit cards, including via web-based credit card processors, and by check; and charged the credit cards of customers who purchased the imported Indian-style jewelry,” the department said in a statement.

In court, Wesley admitted to peeling off “Made in the Philippines” stickers from the jewelry packaging upon its arrival in the U.S. The faked Native American-style jewelry was then sold through jewelry stores in Arizona, Colorado, California, Texas, Minnesota and Utah.

The defendants face a maximum of five years in jail and fines up to $250,000. Coxon is scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, followed by Wesley and Sarrar on March 30.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.