The evidence vaults in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office often contain a collection of items that appeared in the crimes he is prosecuting.
Sharp instruments. heroin bags. Fillings of money. The kinds of things that shouldn’t be dropped, but no one will have a heart attack if you do.
Then there are the 2,281 fragile, priceless, and often museum-worthy pieces of art – statues, sculptures, relics of ancient civilizations – that the office has seized and must now look after.
Here, a bronze idol from India with a price tag of $2 million. There, a vase from Italy was made 300 years before the birth of Christ.
“We all got really good at mobilizing,” said Matthew Bogdanos, the assistant attorney general who runs the 14-person unit that took over everything. “Packaging a bronze or sandstone statue is one thing – it’s another thing to pack a 2,500-year-old apulian vase with a crack already on the side. This is quite nerve-wracking, and we look at each other and say, ‘We need more bubble wrap and more blankets.'”
Bogdanos’ crew, officially known as the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, is a victim of his own success. Founded in 2017, with the approval of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to curb cultural heritage smuggling, it seized 3,604 illicit items worth $204 million. Of that, 1,323 items were returned to their original countries such as Mexico, Afghanistan and Tibet.
However, this leaves a lot of cool things to keep an eye on.
It has really come to my attention, said Vance, “that we have some very important art and heritage pieces that we need to secure with care, and that’s not something most offices have to worry about.”