A federal grand jury indicted two West Valley City residents Wednesday on allegations they helped smuggled Peruvian artifacts, including pre-Columbian vessels, to the United States.
Cesar Guarderas, 70, and his wife, Rosa Isabel Guarderas, 45, were arrested March 25 following an investigation that began in October. They will make their first court appearance Friday.
Two other men also are named in the indictment: Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, 39, and Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, 36, of Trujillo, Peru. Javier Abanto-Sarmiento and Rosa Isabel Guarderas are siblings.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents arrested Javier Abanto-Sarmiento on March 4 when he arrived in Miami from Peru. He is currently being brought to Salt Lake City by U.S. Marshals. Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento has not yet been arrested.
HSI used an undercover agent to buy two Peruvian artifacts from Cesar Guarderas in November for $3,000. The agent then paid $20,000 that same month for 10 additional artifacts.
Professors at Utah Valley University and Tulane University who are Peruvian experts authenticated the artifacts; the items also were tested at a laboratory in Washington. Since 1997, the U.S. and Peru have had an agreement barring specific artifacts and ethnological religious objects from being brought to the U.S.
The artifact trafficking scheme also was corroborated by undercover telephone, email and in-person discussions with Javier Abanto-Sarmiento and Cesar Guarderas. At some point, Cesar Guarderas said Javier Abanto-Sarmiento had access to more than 100 pieces of pottery in Peru, some he had found buried in the ground, and was willing to ship them to the U.S.
Through the investigation, agents learned Abanto-Sarmiento would bribe Peruvian officials to get the artifacts out of the country. Guarderas also said Javier Abanto-Sarmiento had a contact at the National Institute of Culture in Peru who provided him with certificates saying the pottery pieces were replicas, which he used to export the artwork.
In December, agents in Salt Lake City seized a parcel sent from Peru to the Guarderas home in West Valley City that contained eight artifacts. They went to the Guarderas home several days later and Cesar Guarderas willingly turned over eight more artifacts. In January, agents received a shipment of nine artifacts directly from Javier Abanto-Sarmiento.
As part of the government’s ruse, the undercover agent was arrest in Miami along with Javier Abanto-Sarmiento. The agent then contacted the Guarderases and told them he had been released on bond, according to a court document. The couple discussed with the undercover agent the importance of “keeping their story straight” and continuing to maintain the artifacts were replicas, rather than authentic items.
Each of the four defendants faces one count of smuggling and one count of interstate transport of stolen goods. The potential maximum penalty for smuggling goods into the U.S. is up to 20 years in prison. Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a potential 10-year sentence. Each count has a potential fine of $250,000.