Evidence lockers at the Manhattan district attorney’s office often contain an array of items that were part of the crimes he is prosecuting.
Blunt instruments. Bags of heroin. Bundles of banknotes. The kind of stuff that shouldn’t be given up, but no one would have a heart attack if you did.
And then there are the 2,281 fragile, priceless, and often museum-worthy art objects – statues, sculptures, relics of ancient civilizations – that the office seized and now has to deal with.
Here, a bronze idol from India priced at $ 2 million. There, an Italian vase made 300 years before the birth of Christ.
“We’ve all gotten pretty good at packing our bags,” said Matthew Bogdanos, the deputy prosecutor who heads the 14-person unit that seized everything. “It’s one thing to wrap a bronze or stoneware statue, it’s another to wrap a 2,500-year-old Apulian vase that already has a crack in the side. It’s absolutely scary, and we look at each other and say, “We need more bubble wrap and more blankets.”
The crew of Bogdanos, officially known as the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, is very much a victim of its own success. Created in 2017, with the approval of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to combat contraband cultural heritage, it seized 3,604 illicit objects worth $ 204 million. Of these, 1,323 items were returned to countries of origin such as Mexico, Afghanistan and Tibet.
Still, that leaves a lot of really nice things to watch out for.
“It grabs my attention,” said Vance, “that we have extraordinarily important works of art and heritage that we need to protect with care, and it’s not something most offices need to worry about. “