Washington man pleads guilty to selling fake Alaska Native art in Ketchikan

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Alaska Stone Arts, one of the Rodrigo family’s stores, on Front Street (KRBD File Photo)

A Washington man has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products. The charge stems from his involvement in a larger conspiracy to sell over $1 million of fake Alaska Native art in Ketchikan.

According to a plea agreement filed in the District Court of Alaska, Jessie Halili Reginio was charged with violating the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act by passing off stone carvings and wood totem poles as traditional art made by local Lingít and Haida artisans. They were actually produced in the Philippines. The products were sold out of two storefronts in Ketchikan: Alaska Stone Art and Rail Creek.    

The stores were owned and operated by Cristobal Magno Rodrigo and his family members. 

Reginio was an employee of the family’s stores and received commissions on the Filipino products they sold.  His plea agreement lists his involvement beginning in 2019. Reginio portrayed himself as an Alaska Native carver named “Sonny.”

In May of 2019, Reginio received commission on a stone-carved bear with a fish in its mouth which sold for almost $1,500. In July of that year, he sold a stone eagle for almost $6,500. Then, a month before his involvement with the scheme allegedly ended, he sold a Philippine-made humpback whale to an undercover law enforcement agent. The whale was signed with a false name: “Kilit.” 

Federal authorities say that Reginio would lie to customers that he learned to carve by watching his brother and his uncle “Kilit,” both Lingit master carvers. In a later conversation with a customer, he misrepresented his employer Cristobal Rodrigo as his nonexistent uncle, “Kilit.”

Rodrigo was sentenced to two years in prison for his part in the crime in August of this year. It is currently the longest sentence ever given for an Indian Arts and Crafts Act violation in the United States. 

In a statement at the time, Alaska District Attorney S. Lane Tucker said that Rodrigo’s monumental sentence was a testament to the feds dedication to protecting indigenous cultural heritage and that the family’s actions were “a cultural affront to Alaska Native artisans.”  

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