Combating Art and Jewel Theft: The Role of Federal Agencies

Combating Art and Jewel Theft: The Role of Federal Agencies

Art and jewel theft are serious offenses that require a federal agency with the authority to investigate and prosecute criminals who cross state lines and national boundaries. Moreover, these crimes are often committed by organized criminal enterprises, making it essential for the government to have offices throughout the country and overseas. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) are two federal agencies tasked with combating these types of crimes. This article examines the roles and responsibilities of these agencies in addressing art, jewel, and gemstone theft.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team

Art and cultural property crimes, including fraud, looting, theft, and trafficking across international and state lines, cost billions of dollars every year. To address these crimes, the FBI created a team of 16 special agents in 2004 dedicated to investigating art-related offenses. The Art Crime Team’s primary objective is to recover stolen art and prosecute criminals responsible for these crimes. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) prosecution trial attorneys offer support to the Art Crime Team by maintaining a computerized index that houses all reports of stolen art and cultural properties, called the National Stolen Art File. This file is used by law enforcement agencies worldwide to help recover stolen art and prosecute the individuals responsible.

Each special agent on the Art Crime Team is responsible for addressing cultural property and art crime cases in a specific geographic region. The FBI’s Art Theft Program coordinates the Art Crime Team at its headquarters located in Washington, D.C. These agents receive specialized training related to cultural property and art investigations, providing them with the expertise necessary to assist foreign law enforcement officials and FBI legal attaché offices with investigations related to cultural property and art worldwide.

The Importance of Returning Stolen Artwork or Cultural Heritage to Other Nations

Returning stolen art or cultural property to the nation from which it was removed promotes goodwill with the governments and citizens of the affected countries. It also helps preserve the world’s knowledge of civilizations past and cultural heritage.

The Role of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)

Cultural pirates can now easily and quickly acquire, transport, and sell valuable art and cultural property worldwide. These pirates operate globally, without regard for nationalities, borders, laws, or the importance of the items they smuggle. To address this issue, the federal importation laws provide HSI with the authority to investigate crimes involving the illegal importation and distribution of art and cultural property. HSI can legally seize art and cultural property that is unlawfully brought into the US, especially when such objects have already been reported as lost or stolen.

The FBI’s Jewelry and Gem Program

Theft involving jewelry retailers and traveling jewelry salespersons is a nationwide problem, with the industry losing more than $100 million annually. These crimes are frequently committed using weapons, and physical injury or death is not uncommon. The FBI initiated its Jewelry and Gem (JAG) Program in 1992 to address this problem.

Previously, the Major Theft Unit maintained its own Jewelry and Gem database. However, the industry now owns and operates a database available to law enforcement at no cost, maintained by the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA). The FBI works with law enforcement to locate stolen jewels by searching the JSA Jewelry and Gem database.

Recovering Stolen Jewels Requires Cooperation

The FBI maintains close partnerships with security experts within the jewelry industry and law enforcement to successfully recover stolen jewels and arrest the individuals responsible. The Jewelers’ Security Alliance, which represents the security concerns of about 20,000 retail jewelry stores, the Gemological Institute of America, and the Jewelers’ Mutual Insurance Company, is one such expert.

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