State prosecutors sue Ketchikan jeweler over sale of fake gold

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The storefront of Soni Jewelers in Ketchikan on May 23, 2024. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

A jeweler that operates two storefronts in downtown Ketchikan is being sued by the state for allegedly selling fake gold. 

Attorney General Treg Taylor filed the suit Thursday against Soni, Inc., which owns Soni Jewelers and Colors Fine Jewelry, as well as an outlet inside Tongass Trading Company. The two stores are in the heart of downtown Ketchikan, directly across from the cruise ship docks.

The complaint also names the company’s director, Sunita “Soni” Lakhwani. In response to a request for comment, KRBD was told that Lakhwani was out of town and unavailable. 

Assistant Attorney General Ian Engelbeck said state investigators made a series of undercover purchases from the storefronts, which sell Alaska-themed jewelry during the cruise ship season.

“In mid-September, our undercover investigator made a purchase, (which) was represented to her as a gold quartz ring with gold quartz mined in Alaska,” Engelbeck said. “We determined that we believed it was imitation, and we applied to the superior court in Ketchikan for an impound order.” 

They received that impound order, which allowed authorities to confiscate 10 pieces of jewelry from each store. The state said they tested them in a lab and found them to be man-made “gold nuggets” and “gold quartz” from out-of-state suppliers.

According to the complaint, Soni, Inc. was passing this imported fake gold off as natural stones and nuggets mined in northern Alaska and handmade into jewelry by mostly Ketchikan-based jewelers. Salespeople also allegedly told the undercover investigators that natural gold quartz only occurs in Alaska and can only be legally purchased in Alaska, which is false.

“In addition, Soni Inc.’s salespeople point customers to elements of Soni Inc.’s jewelry that appear to be gold nuggets and proclaim that these are 24 karat Alaska gold nuggets,” prosecutors said in the complaint. “In fact, lab testing and the inventory control tags on many of these ‘nuggets,’ including ones that undercover investigators were told were 24 karat Alaska gold nuggets, show that they are actually imitations made of 14 karat gold shaped to resemble a natural nugget.”

One of the people in the store allegedly making false claims to undercover investigators was Lakhwani herself. The complaint said that when questioned by investigators, Lakhwani admitted that she wasn’t sure where the jewelry was made but did know that the stones weren’t from Alaska, as advertised. One Soni Jewelry employee allegedly told investigators, “(E)verybody thinks that’s from Alaska. So if the customer asks ‘it’s from Alaska?’ I’ll probably say ‘yes’ . . . But the piece comes from L.A.”

“These cases are important because it obviously hurts tourists who think they’re buying a genuine article,” Engelbeck said. “It also hurts businesses and Alaskan communities that are trying to do right and sell the real thing and it hurts Alaskan artisans who make the authentic thing and having imitation goods sold as real squeezes the real thing out of the market.”

State prosecutors asked the Ketchikan Superior Court to enter a temporary restraining order to prevent Soni, Inc. from continuing to sell fraudulent and misrepresented products. As of Tuesday afternoon, the storefronts downtown were still open and operating for the tourist season.

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