Two Western Washington artists have pleaded guilty soon after currently being charged for faking Indigenous American heritage to offer artwork, even with neither having tribal enrollment or heritage.

In two individual scenarios, Lewis Anthony Rath, 53, of Maple Falls, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke (also identified as Jerry Witten), 68, of Seattle, had been billed, equally in late 2021, with violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a statute aimed at ridding the Indigenous arts and crafts market of counterfeits. Both adult men are set to be sentenced May possibly 17.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Assistance investigations, which started in February 2019, observed that Van Dyke, beneath the identify Witten, had represented himself as a Nez Perce artist when offering his artworks, irrespective of afterwards admitting to USFWS agents that he was not a tribal member. Carved pendants explained to be centered on Aleut masks have been between some of his faked is effective. On Wednesday, Van Dyke pleaded guilty to misrepresentation of Indian created products and items, which can incorporate a sentence of up to a person yr in prison. 

“We are glad to have attained a just consequence with Mr. Van Dyke’s misdemeanor plea,” claimed Vanessa Pai-Thompson, Van Dyke’s lawyer, in a assertion. “Mr. Van Dyke did not commit his offenses out of greed and I glance ahead to sharing much more about him at sentencing.”

In 2021, Van Dyke advised investigators that the idea to stand for his work as Native American was Matthew Steinbrueck’s, the operator of Raven’s Nest Treasure. Van Dyke offered function beneath the name Witten at the Pike Position Marketplace store, The Related Push noted at the time. When speaking with the AP, Steinbrueck denied the declare.

When arrived at for comment, Pai-Thompson declined to comment even more on Van Dyke’s statements or Steinbrueck’s potential involvement.

Steinbrueck could not be immediately arrived at for remark.

Nevertheless the eventual sentencing will be up to U.S. District Decide Tana Lin, Van Dyke and the prosecutors are recommending no prison time less than Van Dyke’s plea settlement.

In accordance to the U.S. Attorney’s Workplace, an investigation into Rath, which started in Could 2019, discovered Rath to be falsely representing himself as a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe when undercover brokers purchased Rath’s artworks, including carved totem poles, masks and a necklace, from Raven’s Nest and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Brokers executing a search warrant on Rath’s Whatcom County dwelling and studio then located feathers from safeguarded birds these kinds of as golden eagles and other migratory birds like hawks, jays and owls in Rath’s possession. The feathers have given that been forfeited to the federal government.

Rath pleaded guilty to misrepresentation of Native American developed goods and merchandise and illegal possession of golden eagle pieces, both equally punishable by up to just one yr in jail, as effectively as illegal possession of migratory fowl parts, which is punishable by up to 6 months in prison.

Arrived at for comment, Rath’s legal professional Gregory Geist claimed his client is remorseful and open up to undertaking “anything he can in the long run to deal with the affect and harm he triggered,” which includes collaborating in “a restorative justice system.”

Meridith Stanton, director of the U.S. Office of the Inside Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which is accountable for imposing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, said in a assertion that the board is delighted to see Van Dyke and Rath “brought to justice for their roles in advertising phony Indian artwork.” Stanton called situations like these vital to preserving the integrity of reliable Native American art, the economic livelihoods of Indigenous artists and the cultural heritage of the Nez Perce Tribe and San Carlos Apache Tribe.

In a assertion, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown additional that phony promises like these can choose income away from artists doing work to guidance them selves making use of abilities and approaches handed down for generations.

“Stores and galleries will need to spouse with artists to be certain individuals artisans and craftsmen advertised as Indian artists definitely have tribal standing,” Brown said.

By Indana