Hobby Lobby family under investigation for illicit artifacts

The founders of Hobby Lobby — arts and crafts, but for Jesus — have reportedly been the subject of a years-long federal investigation over suspicions that they have been illegally importing cultural artifacts from Iraq for a museum the family was set to open in Washington in 2017.

From The Daily Beast:

Hobby Lobby photo via DangApricot. Pope clothes via Shutterstock (Maxisport / Shutterstock.com)

Hobby Lobby photo via DangApricot. Pope clothes via Shutterstock (Maxisport / Shutterstock.com)

In 2011, a shipment of somewhere between 200 to 300 small clay tablets on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel was seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis. The tablets were inscribed in cuneiform—the script of ancient Assyria and Babylonia, present-day Iraq—and were thousands of years old…A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.

These tablets, like the other 40,000 or so ancient artifacts owned by the Green family, were destined for the Museum of the Bible, the giant new museum funded by the Greens, slated to open in Washington, D.C., in 2017. Both the seizure of the cuneiform tablets and the subsequent federal investigation were confirmed to us by Cary Summers, the president of the Museum of the Bible.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Summers downplayed the investigation, chalking it up to “improper” or “incomplete” paperwork — unlikely given the hundreds of hours of interviews investigators have conducted. What’s more, investigators told the Daily Beast that while paperwork issues are technically a correct description of the violations in question, they aren’t so innocent: Packages seem to have been deliberately mislabeled and their dollar value deliberately underestimated in order to obscure their country of origin, making them appear to have come from a country other than Iraq and downplaying their cultural significance.

What’s more, Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, admitted to the possibility that his family has some illegal artifacts, saying rather matter-of-factly: “Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible.”

The penalty associated with customs violations of this nature is a fine that wouldn’t come close to putting a dent in the Green’s multi-million dollar fortune. It would, however, give lie to the notion that this family is a bunch of upstanding, law-abiding, Godly citizens who only have the righteous at heart — a notion that they successfully parlayed into a favorable Supreme Court ruling that allowed them to deny their employees specific health insurance plans that they didn’t like.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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12 Responses to “Hobby Lobby family under investigation for illicit artifacts”

  1. johnbales says:

    So are they also going through sources that are dealing with looted antiquities being sold by ISIL/ISIS to finance their jihad?

  2. Indigo says:

    You’re on to something there. The Shock and Awe is so debilitating that we’ve been at war for 14 years with nothing to show for it and, so far, the public has not got past the “deer in the headlights” phase in order to demand an end to this nonsense.

  3. mf_roe says:

    Yes the Shock and Awe aspect helps them get away with great crimes. Think W’s first term, nobody could really believe what was happening and many were “deer in the headlights” frozen unable to fight back.

  4. mf_roe says:

    I disagree, Planned Parenthood is a business—or you accusing it of being without ethics? I agree most of the businesses you come in contact with in your life are unethical. But a huge part of that dishonesty comes from the fact that government is guilty of not punishing criminal behavior. Like the black teenager forced into dealing drugs because that is the only source of livelihood many small business people find that they must cheat to compete. Families like the Greens and the Waltons make ethical behavior impossible for smaller businesses.

  5. Indigo says:

    Your plan sounds sensible. It takes a level of arrogance I don’t really grasp to attempt something like what the Greens are trying with this smuggling routine.

  6. hauksdottir says:

    I would scan and 3D print exact replicas for display.

    But then, I wouldn’t steal from the global cultural heritage in the first place. Green consulted with an expert lawyer a few years back. He *knows* these were stolen. Apparently those Commandments about coveting and stealing don’t apply to him. ::pah!::

    I hope that any penalties take into consideration the deliberate, premeditated, arrogant thefts and cover-ups.

  7. Indigo says:

    40, 000 pieces of antiquity including cuneiform tablets and no one heard alarm bells going off until now? That’s curious. Even more curious, the Greens were blithe enough not to realize that so many tablets would attract suspicious attention. Foolish is as stupid does, apparently.

  8. BeccaM says:

    While U.S. forces in Iraq were busy securing the oil ministry buildings and petroleum production facilities, there was widespread looting of just about everything else in the country, including museum contents.

    Since 2003, there’s been a worldwide glut of stolen and illegally exported artifacts from the region.

    That these people, the Greens who own Hobby Lobby (and pretended to the Supreme Court they were just running a ‘family business’ despite being worth an estimated $4.5 billion), would simply break whatever laws they felt like breaking and participate in the plundering of a country’s cultural heritage for their own selfish benefit comes as no surprise.

  9. The_Fixer says:

    Apparently, these Hobby Lobby people believe that it’s perfectly OK to appropriate someone else’s culture and break the law doing so, as long as it’s for Jesus.

    Yup, lovely people.

  10. emjayay says:

    There is no such thing as business ethics, even if you pretend you are running a church instead. This seems to apply to the rest of a lot of business owner’s other dealings as well, not surprisingly.

  11. gratuitous says:

    As long as the Greens are following their sincerely held religious beliefs, though, I’m pretty sure the law can’t touch them. It’s such a damn good argument, it even worked for their corporation, and the Supreme Court bought it.

  12. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I imagine they’ve been closely watched. From an article in the Washington Post from earlier this year:

    That 40,000 number [of the collection size], however, is suspicious to Roberta Mazza, a leading scholar and professor at University of Manchester in Britain. The UNESCO convention controls the export of antiquities and makes it bureaucratically difficult to legally sell abroad objects that were excavated after 1970. Mazza wonders how Green managed to collect so much “in such a brief period of time and in the context, in theory, of a strictly regulated antiquities market?”

    Heightening their skepticism, Mazza and other scholars identified one item in the Green Collection — a Coptic papyrus fragment with lines from Galatians 2 — that was once advertised on eBay by a seller who was later banned from the site for allegedly selling looted antiquities.

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