Two Juneau shop owners tied to Native art scam

Federal investigation results in charges against 4 Southeast Alaska owners, 1 employee
The federal government has pressed charges of falsely selling Native artwork against the owner of Northstar Gifts at 236 S. Franklin Street.

Two downtown business owners with shops frequented by summer tourists are facing charges for allegedly violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

 

Juneau residents Vinod “Vinny” L. Sippy, 38, with Diamond Island, Icy Strait, and Gemstone Heaven; and Norma M. Carandang, 60, with Northstar Gift Shop, are the two of five persons charged after an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), according to Alaska U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler.

The federal government is charging Carandang and Sippy for allegedly misrepresenting bone art carvings as made by Alaska Natives or Indians, when in fact they were made by local non-Native carvers, according Loeffler’s press release.

Carandang told the Empire by phone Thursday that she knew nothing about the charges. Her husband, Bernard Carandang, said USFWS officials visited the couple’s shop in September asking about their whale bone artifacts and Bernard explained their work is made by Alaska resident Ron Ekemo who works out of Eagle River.

“We do sell whale bone, but we don’t say it’s a Native artwork,” Bernard said. “We have a sign that (says) it’s Alaska-made artwork. We don’t say Native artwork.”

Bernard said he believes his wife may be charged as the result of a misunderstanding by customers or by association with other store owners, specifically Sippy, whom he said has a reputation of saying “anything just to sell.”

Sippy could not be contacted by press time for a comment. Bernard said Sippy does not live in Juneau after the tourist season like he and his wife do.

Bernard said he and his wife have lived in Juneau for more than 30 years and have owned their shop at 236 S. Franklin St. for 15 years.

Bernard said people such as Sippy who specialize in jewelry sales, not artwork, are prone to misrepresentation.

“I think our reputation is being ruined because of people that (haven’t) sold artwork before,” Bernard said. “They don’t know how to sell artwork.”

According to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska’s press release, the USFWS received complaints by summer tourists who were told bone carvings they purchased from Alaska shops were in fact made by Alaska Natives or Indians, when they were not.

The USFWS started an investigation looking into local Southeast Alaska businesses misrepresenting non-Native bone carvings as made by Alaska Natives or Indians in May 2014.

The maximum penalty for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act as charged is one year in prison and $100,000 fine.

The other persons facing charges are Puerto Rican resident and Ketchikan business owner Gabriel T. Karim, 33, with Alaskan Heritage; Skagway resident and business owner Rosemary V. Libert, 56, with Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods, Inc.; and Libert’s seasonal employee, Judy M. Gengler, 65.

Arraignment dates have not been set for any of the involved parties.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt, who is prosecuting the case, could not be reached by press time for more information.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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