Artist faked Apache heritage for years to trick collectors into buying his work at inflated prices, say Feds
- Lewis Anthony Rath allegedly faked his Native American heritage to sell artwork
- Federal agents charged him with three counts of misrepresentation of Indian produced goods
- Was also charged with two counts of unlawful possession of migratory bird parts
- Initially denied he had described himself as of the San Carlos Apache tribe
- But federal agents said Rath admitted a DNA test proved he had Mayan roots
An artist faked his heritage as a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe in order to sell his woodwork art pieces at inflated prices, the federal agents have said.
Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, works as an artist producing wooden carvings and large wooden totem poles – allegedly professing his pieces to be Indian produced’.
Its claimed Rath led collectors to believe they were purchasing authentic Native American carvings from him – when in fact his ancestry can be traced back to Mexico.
Federal agents claim they were told by buyers that Rath had described himself as ‘Apache, Mexican and Mayan’ and ‘Apache and Mayan’ – and had done so up to two dozen times.
Agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service were told by Rath that ‘his birth mother told him he had some Indian bloodlines that may be Apache. However, he explained that he later discovered through DNA testing that he had Mayan ancestry from Mexico,’ the Daily Beast reports.
Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, (pictured) has been charged with misrepresentation of Indian produced goods after allegedly falsely claiming he belonged to a Native American tribe
As a result, the Washington state-based artist is now facing three counts of misrepresentation of Indian produced goods and products, and two counts of unlawful possession of migratory bird parts, including golden eagle feathers.
The maximum possible sentence that could be imposed for the top charge is five years in prison.
He was charged on Tuesday and as of Wednesday did not have legal representation.
Federal agents initially became aware of Rath’s alleged faked heritage back in July 2018 after the Department of the Interior (DOI) received a complaint about Rath selling ‘Indian produced’ carvings and claiming that he was of San Carlos Apache heritage.
The San Carlos Apache Tribal Enrollment Department confirmed to federal agents that Rath was not an enrolled member, and in the year that followed, agents purchased a totem pole and necklace from an art gallery in Seattle, both of which were Rath’s works.
After uncovering other artwork produced by Rath from Seattle galleries, the agents were told by the owners of each gallery that Rath had provided them with information about himself, which they had then turned into a biography.
Federal agents claim they were told by buyers that Rath (pictured) had described himself as ‘Apache, Mexican and Mayan’ and ‘Apache and Mayan’ – and had done so up to two dozen times
During questioning, one gallery owner denied abetting Rath’s alleged faked heritage.
The federal agents made direct contact with Rath over Facebook and commissioned a $1,200 order for two totem poles.
They claim that during the initial discussions he described himself as ‘a San Carlos Apache’.
Eventually, federal officers raided Rath’s home on December 19, 2019, and seized tools, sales receipts for his work and feathers from protected bird species.
During initial questioning, agents said Rath denied telling buyers he was of the San Carlos Apache tribe, but later confessed that a DNA test had outlined his Mayan background.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 made it illegal to sell fake Nattive American goods and in 2015, artist Terry Lee Whetstone was convicted after passing his work off as Native art.
And earlier this year, federal officers broke up a crime ring selling counterfeit Native American jewellery that had been produced in a factory in the Philippines.