Artist forged Apache heritage for years to trick collectors into buying his work at high prices, thinking they were buying authentic Native American carvings, Feds says
- Lewis Anthony Rath allegedly faked his Native American heritage to sell artwork
- Federal agents charged him with three counts of misrepresenting Indian-manufactured goods
- Was also charged with two counts of unlawful possession of parts of migratory birds
- At first he denied describing himself as of the San Carlos Apache tribe
- But federal agents said Rath admitted a DNA test proved he had Mayan roots
An artist forged his heritage as a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe to sell his woodwork artworks at high prices, federal agents have said.
Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, works as an artist producing carvings and large wooden totem poles – allegedly claiming that his pieces were produced in India’.
It is said that Rath led collectors to believe they were buying authentic Native American carvings from him – when in fact his ancestry can be traced back to Mexico.
Federal agents allege buyers told them Rath had described himself as “Apache, Mexican and Mayan” and “Apache and Mayan” — and had done so up to two dozen times.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents 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 accused of misrepresenting Indian-produced goods after allegedly falsely claiming to belong to a Native American tribe
As a result, the Washington state-based artist is now facing three counts of misrepresentation of Indian-made goods and products, and two counts of unlawful possession of parts of migratory birds, including golden eagle feathers.
The maximum possible sentence that can be imposed on the highest charges is five years in prison.
He was charged Tuesday and had no legal representation as of Wednesday.
Federal agents initially became aware of Rath’s alleged forged heritage in July 2018 after the Department of the Interior (DOI) received a complaint about Rath selling “India-produced” engravings, claiming 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 following year, agents purchased a totem pole and necklace from a Seattle art gallery, both of which were Rath’s works.
After discovering other artwork by Rath from galleries in Seattle, each gallery’s owners’ agents were informed that Rath had given them information about themselves, which they then turned into a biography.
Federal agents allege buyers told them Rath (pictured) had described himself as “Apache, Mexican and Mayan” and “Apache and Mayan” — and did so up to two dozen times
During the interrogation, a gallery owner denied being complicit in Rath’s alleged forged heritage.
The federal agents contacted Rath directly via Facebook and ordered a $1,200 order for two totem poles.
They claim he described himself as “a San Carlos Apache” during early conversations.
Finally, on December 19, 2019, federal agents raided Rath’s home and seized tools, receipts for his work, and feathers from protected bird species.
During the initial questioning, officers 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 Native American goods, and in 2015, artist Terry Lee Whetstone was convicted after passing his work as Native art.
And earlier this year, federal agents broke up a crime ring selling counterfeit Native American jewelry produced at a factory in the Philippines.