Investigators Seize $69 Million Worth Of Stolen Artifacts From Museum Trustee

(Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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Almost 90 stolen artifacts, valued at roughly $69 million, were seized from a prominent New York philanthropist in April.

Some 89 artifacts were recovered from a private collection owned by Shelby White, 84, after an extensive investigation by Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s special Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU), according to a statement released by the office in April. White is a trustee for the Met Museum, even providing the institution with a new gallery named in her and her late husband’s honor, New York Times (NYT) reported.

At least 17 of the artifacts White loaned to the Met were seized as part of a repatriation process for the stolen goods, the NYT continued. Over the course of two years, investigators have reportedly searched for and removed at least 71 looted items from White’s home.

Investigators showed up at 6am with a warrant to search her home in June 2021 for antiquities purchased from dealers later accused of trafficking illicit artifacts, the NYT noted. However, investigators have not alleged White or her husband knew their possessions were stole, per the NYT.

Not everyone thinks she’s as innocent as the DA’s office does.

“There is no way,” Director of Museum Studies at Colgate University, Elizabeth Marlowe, told the NYT.

“Someone at her level of the market and her depth of collecting and her prominence at the Met, there is no way someone at that level did not know they should be asking for things like export licenses,” Marlowe continued.

“If you pick a trustee whose financial generosity is the most important factor, then fine,” DePaul University College of Law  professor Patty Gerstenblith said of the situation, per the NYT. “But should a trustee be a model of conduct when it pertains to the purpose of the museum itself? Her collecting practices do not fit the model of how a museum should be pursuing knowledge and preserving the historical record.” (RELATED: France Decides To Bring Ancient Curses Upon Itself By Effing With Historical Artifacts)

White’s friends and attorney said criticisms were unfair.

The Met has already announced a huge review of its collection to make sure the institution doesn’t have any other looted artifacts.