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News / Northwest

Whatcom man with no native heritage falsely sold art as ‘Indian produced’

By Rachel Showalter, The Bellingham Herald
Published: March 7, 2023, 7:37am

BELLINGHAM — A Whatcom County man pleaded guilty to illegally misrepresenting his artwork as “Indian-produced.”

Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, of Maple Falls plead guilty to violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act by representing himself as a Native American artist, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

Rath has no tribal enrollment or native heritage, according to U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.

“When non-Native artists falsely claim Indian heritage, they can take sales away from true Indian artists working to support themselves with skills and techniques handed down for generations,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown in the release. “Stores and galleries need to partner with artists to ensure those artisans and craftsmen advertised as Indian Artists truly have tribal status.”

The investigation of Anthony Rath began in May 2019, after a complaint was made to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. The investigation revealed that Rath falsely represented himself to be a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, according to the DOJ.

Undercover agents purchased carved totem poles, a necklace and a mask made by Rath from two galleries in the Pike Place Market area of Seattle and along the Seattle waterfront. All of the items were represented to be “Indian-produced” and Rath’s artist biography at both shops falsely claimed he was Native American, according to the DOJ.

Internet sites Rath used to sell his artwork also falsely claim he was an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, according to the DOJ.

When agents executed a search warrant on Rath’s Whatcom County home and studio, they found he also possessed feathers from protected birds including golden eagles and other migratory birds such as hawks, jays and owls. Rath agreed to forfeit the feathers to the government.

Rath pleaded guilty to misrepresentation of Indian produced goods and products, unlawful possession of golden eagle parts and unlawful possession of migratory bird parts.

Rath could spend up to two and a half years in prison. He will be sentenced on May 17.