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News / Northwest

WA artist who faked Native heritage sentenced in U.S. District Court

By Gemma Wilson, The Seattle Times
Published: September 29, 2023, 7:28am

SEATTLE — Lewis Anthony Rath, who pleaded guilty in March to falsely representing himself as Native American to sell his art, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court to 24 months of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Rath, 54, of Maple Falls, was charged in late 2021 with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a law aimed at eliminating counterfeits from the Indigenous arts and crafts market.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the investigation into Rath began in July 2018 when the Indian Arts and Crafts Board received a complaint that he was representing himself as an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe to sell items such as totem poles, masks and pendants to Seattle retail stores, despite neither having tribal enrollment nor heritage.

Undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents purchased Rath’s artworks from Seattle retailers Raven’s Nest Treasure and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, both of which represented Rath’s work as Native-produced art. Agents also executed a federal search warrant at Rath’s Whatcom County home and studio where they recovered feathers from birds protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to the news release.

In March 2023, Rath pleaded guilty to misrepresentation of Native American produced goods and products and unlawful possession of golden eagle parts, both punishable by up to one year in prison, and unlawful possession of migratory bird parts, punishable by up to six months in prison.

At the Sept. 27 sentencing hearing, according to the news release, U.S. District Judge Tana Lin heard from Yavapai-Apache jewelry artist Matagi Sorensen, who explained the importance of art to both the cultural and financial survival of his people. Lin also read aloud a letter from San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler, describing the harm that Rath’s misappropriation of his Tribe’s culture caused its 17,000 tribal members.

“Rath’s victims are real: they are Indian artists, many who struggle to make a living, who lost out on sales to those who seek authentic Indian artwork; and they are also consumers who were defrauded into purchasing fake Indian art,” Assistant U.S. Attorney and Tribal Liaison Tate London said in a statement to the court.

Rath’s actions also “undermine consumers’ confidence in the Indian art market in the Northwest and nationwide,” Meridith Stanton, director of the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which is responsible for enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, said in a statement.

Rath’s attorney, Gregory Geist, declined to comment on the record.

Jerry Chris Van Dyke (also known as Jerry Witten), 68, of Seattle, who also pleaded guilty to violations of the IACA in March, was sentenced on May 17 to 18 months of federal probation.