Some of the pieces confiscated from Michael H. Steinhardt's collection.

New York’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit Seizes Objects from Prominent Collector

A Greek oil vessel from the fifth century BCE, proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century BCE, and an Apulian terra-cotta flask from the fourth century BCE, among other items, were seized from the Manhattan home and office of billionaire philanthropist Michael H. Steinhardt on January 5, writes James C. McKinley Jr. of the New York Times. Prosecutors say that the objects were looted from Italy and Greece. Steinhardt acquired the pieces over the course of twelve years and has been collecting Greek antiquities for thirty years. He has a gallery named in his honor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Last month, New York County district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. started a unit to deal with stolen antiquities. The Antiquities Trafficking Unit is led by Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine who led an investigation into ransacked antiquities from Iraq. Vance has been operating under a state law that lets authorities repatriate thieved items to their original owners, but he’s not yet brought charges against anyone in possession of such works. Collectors have been critical of Vance’s efforts and feel disputes over allegedly stolen items would be better handled in civil courts.

Steinhardt’s collection has been scrutinized before: In 2015, the collector purchased a sculpture of a man holding a calf from the sixth century BCE, a piece that was stolen from the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, located in southwestern Lebanon. The object is estimated to be worth about $4.5 million. Steinhardt bought the work from a pair of collectors in Colorado, William and Lynda Beierwaltes, who acquired the piece from a London dealer, Robin Symes. Several of the pieces taken from Steinhardt by the authorities last Friday were also purchased from the Beierwalteses, who bought the works from Symes.