Hobby Lobby Clan Suspected of Looting Iraq Antiquities
4-year federal probe looks into whether ancient tablets were smuggled into US
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2015 9:38 AM CDT
In this July 19, 2013, file photo, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green stands outside the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City.   (AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Brianna Bailey, File)

(Newser) – The Museum of the Bible being built in DC by the Christian family behind one of the nation's biggest arts-and-crafts retailers is coming along nicely. Maybe too nicely, per law enforcement sources, who tell the Daily Beast that the Green family—the ones whose Hobby Lobby chain claimed a big victory last year when the Supreme Court ruled it didn't have to provide insurance for employee birth control—has been the subject of a four-year federal investigation for "illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq," per the Daily Beast. That comprises hundreds of clay tablets, thousands of years old and inscribed in ancient cuneiform, allegedly smuggled out of the Middle East and shipped to the Greens' Oklahoma City home base in 2011. The tablets and tens of thousands of other artifacts are for the museum, set to open in 2017 as "one of the world's largest private collections of rare biblical texts, objects, and artifacts."

Hobby Lobby has confirmed that the investigation is taking place and says it is cooperating, reports the Oklahoman. The problem with the Iraq tablets is that, as museum head Cary Summers puts it, there was "incomplete paperwork" attached, though the Daily Beast points out that a simple logistical issue wouldn't have dragged on so long. Instead, someone looking to bring in artifacts that should never have left their country of origin may have purposely undervalued the antiquities so they could be smuggled into the US. Hobby Lobby denies knowingly doing anything illegal. A DePaul law professor tells the Guardian that she advised Hobby Lobby about the potential risks and "read them the riot act" back in 2010, because "I was concerned they might be doing something they shouldn’t, even out of ignorance of the law.” (Read more about the planned museum.)