‘Monumental sentence’ given to businessman involved in fraudulent Alaska Native artwork scheme

FastCast morning digital headlines for Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 12:57 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A businessman who sold counterfeit Alaska Native products was given the longest sentence ever handed down to someone violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

According to the Department of Justice, Cristobal “Cris” Magno Rodrigo, 59, of Washington state, was sentenced on Monday to two years in federal prison and will also be mandated to make a $60,000 donation to the Tlingit and Haida Central Counsel Vocational Program, submit a letter of apology in the Ketchikan Daily News newspaper and serve three years under supervised release.

The sentence of two years is 18 months longer than any previous sentence for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts in the U.S.

Rodrigo and his family owned and operated Alaska Stone Arts LLC and Rail Creek LLC in Ketchikan from April 2016 to December 2021, which imported wooden and stone carvings from the Philippines patterned after Alaska Native designs. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act “prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian art and craft products”, including passing off non-Native made goods as Indigenous crafts.

“The actions the defendant took to purposefully deceive customers and forge artwork is a cultural affront to Alaska Native artisans who pride themselves on producing these historical works of art, and negatively affects those who make a living practicing the craft,” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska in a statement. “Mr. Rodrigo’s monumental sentence is a testament to the federal government’s dedication to prosecuting Indian Arts and Crafts Act violations, and the U.S. Attorney’s office will continue to work with law enforcement partners to protect Alaska Native cultural heritage and unwitting customers, and hold perpetrators accountable who carry out this type of fraud.”

The scheme involved his wife and several Alaska Native individuals working in a Ketchikan storefront. Rodrigo’s wife owned Rodrigo Creative Crafts, which supplied counterfeit Alaska Native products and was founded for the “sole purpose of producing carvings featuring Alaska Native designs and motifs using Philippine labor.”

Investigations into co-conspirators Glenda Tiglao Rodrigo, 46, and Christian Ryan Tiglao Rodrigo, 24, are still ongoing.

Investigators determined the Rodrigo family and their Alaska-based employees sold over $1 million worth of counterfeit products in 2019 and part of 2021 alone.

The Alaska Native employees in stores showcasing Rodrigo’s products told customers they were authentically made and sourced from local materials.

“The Rodrigos sold imported products as Alaska Native made in their Ketchikan, Alaska store,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, in a statement. “This deceptive business practice cheated customers and undermined the economic livelihood of Alaska Native artists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a dedicated team of special agents that work on violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. This sentence was the result of the strong collaboration between our special agents, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

Indian Arts and Crafts Board Director Meridith Stanton said in a statement that Rodrigos’ actions “tear at the very fabric of Alaska Native culture, Native livelihoods, and Native communities.”

“Mr. Rodrigo’s sentencing should send a strong message to those who prey upon authentic Alaska Native artists and vulnerable consumers that this destructive conduct will not be tolerated, and Act violators will be held accountable,” Stanton wrote.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Law Enforcement, Indian Arts and Crafts Board, U.S. Customs and Border Protections, and U.S. Department of Agriculture all helped to investigate the case.

The State of Alaska saw a similar case of fraudulent business operations earlier in the summer, with a business located outside of Denali National Park & Preserve. The owner of The Himalayan was given a temporary restraining order after deceiving shoppers by claiming their products were made by and benefitted Alaska Natives in Yakutat.