Michigan auction house owner arrested for illegal sale of Korean artifact

James Amato charged with selling Hojo currency plate from 1893

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DETROIT - The owner of a Michigan auction house was arrested Tuesday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for allegedly making false statements and on charges of transporting and selling a Korean artifact. 

James Amato, 50, of Oxford, Mich., was arrested without incident at his home after being charged in a federal arrest warrant with making false statements, transportation of stolen goods and for the sale or receipt of stolen goods.

Amato is the second suspect to be arrested following a two-year investigation into the sale of a Hojo currency plate from 1893.

Won Young Youn was arrested Jan. 9 in Fort Lee, N.J., on similar charges.

Youn remains free on bond and has a preliminary hearing April 17.   

According to the investigation, Amato, the listed owner of Midwest Auction Galleries, allegedly sold the currency plate in 2010 to Youn for $35,000.

Amato sold the plate on behalf of the family of a deceased American serviceman, who reportedly brought it back to Michigan after a tour of duty in the Korean War. 

While the item was listed for sale and before Youn's purchase, Amato and Youn were contacted by officials with the Korean Embassy and the U.S. State Department, and advised that the sale of the item could be in violation of the National Stolen Property Act.

After the sale, HSI launched an investigation into the item, which experts believe is one of three currency plates still in existence from the 1890s. The currency plates ushered in modern currency printing methods in Korea.  

"Artifacts have a specific dollar value in the legitimate marketplace where they are bought and sold," said William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit.  "But the cultural and symbolic worth of these items far surpasses any monetary value to the people and nations of their origin. HSI remains a committed partner in the effort to ensure that items like these are returned to their rightful owners." 

If convicted, Amato faces up to five years in federal prison on the false statements charge. Charges of transportation and selling stolen goods each carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of up to $250,000.

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