New Mexico AG targets fake Native American jewelry

Chris Rizo Sep. 15, 2008, 10:46am

Gary King (D)

SANTA FE, N.M. (Legal Newsline)-At least 50 percent of the Indian jewelry on the New Mexico market is misrepresented in some way, an official in the state attorney general's office told Legal Newsline.

"Various other people who will tell you that as much of 75 percent of what's sold is misrepresented. There's general agreement that it's at least 50 percent," said Assistant Attorney William Keller.

He said the Native American jewelry market is being pressed and made difficult for hundreds of artists to sell their works and maintain a living.

"There are large numbers of artists who are no longer working because they simply cannot afford to compete," Keller said in a telephone interview from his office.

Some of the counterfeited pieces are made by non-American Indians, and some of the pricey pieces are imported from overseas.

Keller said it's not just Indian jewelry that counterfeiters are making. "Any kind of Native American art form is victim to this," he said.

Earlier this month, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued Golden Bear Trading, Inc. and Santa Fe Indian Jewelry for allegedly selling jewelry they fraudulently claimed was made by renowned Navajo artist Calvin Begay.

The Santa Fe, N.M., retailers were accused of violating the New Mexico Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act, the Unfair Practices Act, and for fraud or negligent misrepresentation in the sale of jewelry.

The companies face civil penalties up to $5,000 per willful violation of the New Mexico Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act, Keller said.

The attorney general's office said Golden Bear Trading and its two principals, Mohammed "Mike" Sulieman Shawabkeh and Jamal "Jack" Sulieman Shawabkeh, on three occasions in the last year sold five pieces that were falsely represented as having been made by Begay.

In the second case, Yousef Nassar, doing business as Santa Fe Indian Jewelry, is accused of selling four pieces of jewelry that were falsely represented as having been made by Begay.

The lawsuits also claim the two retailers gave discounts on the pieces that were in violation of state regulations governing pricing and price advertising of Indian jewelry.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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