Hobby Lobby President Steve Green has apologized for what he calls "regrettable mistakes"—including buying thousands of artifacts after being warned they could have been looted from Iraq, and then shipping them to the US described only as "samples" or "ceramic tiles." The arts-and-crafts chain has agreed to return thousands of artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, and to pay $3 million to settle a case brought by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, NBC News reports. Prosecutors said the 2010 acquisition of the items from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel was "fraught with red flags" that the company ignored, reports the New York Times.
Prosecutors say an expert on cultural law warned Hobby Lobby that there was a very good chance the items could have been stolen from archaeological sites in Iraq. The expert also advised the chain to make sure the country of origin was properly declared, but the items ended up being imported to the US wrongly labeled as items from Turkey. Green blamed the episode on inexperience, saying they should have "exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled." CNN reports that despite forfeiting the 5,500 artifacts, Hobby Lobby still has around 40,000 items to display in the Museum of the Bible that it plans to open this fall in Washington, DC. (The Green family has spent tens of millions buying Biblical items for the museum.)