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Federal Criminal Law on Theft of Major Artwork – 18 USC Section 668

An experienced criminal defense attorney explains the federal criminal law that applies to the theft of “major artwork,” in 18 USC 668.

New York City is home to some of the nation’s top museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Museum of Natural History, and more. As you might imagine, stealing from any of those museums can be a serious crime with stiff penalties for the perpetrator. What you might not expect, however, is that such a crime could be prosecuted under federal law and not just the obvious state law.

Section 668 of 18 USC (Chapter 31) explains that a person who (1) steals or obtains by fraud from the care, custody, or control of a museum any object of cultural heritage; or (2) knowing that an object of cultural heritage has been stolen or obtained by fraud, if in fact the object was stolen or obtained from the care, custody, or control of a museum (whether or not that fact is known to the person) receives, conceals, exhibits, or disposes of the object, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

Federal jurisdiction for this crime is conferred by the definition of “museum” contained in Subsection (a)(1): museum means an organized and permanent institution, the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce, that (A) is situated in the United States; (B) is established for an essentially educational or aesthetic purpose; (C) has a professional staff; and (D) owns, utilizes, and cares for tangible objects that are exhibited to the public on a regular schedule.

An object of cultural heritage is further defined in subsection (a)(2): an object that is (A) over 100 years old and worth in excess of $5,000; or (B) worth at least $100,000.

IF you or a loved one have been arrested or are being investigated for a violation of this federal crime, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors at Galluzzo & Johnson LLP.