In San Antonio, a federal grand jury indicted a Kingwood man for selling allegedly fraudulent Native American-made goods on the internet, announced U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff; Edward Grace, Assistant Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement; and Meridith Stanton, Director of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, U.S. Department of the Interior.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed today charges 58-year-old Kevin Charles Kowalis with four counts of mail fraud and four counts of misrepresentation of Indian goods under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The indictment alleges that from January 23, 2020 to July 15, 2020, Kowalis fraudulently marketed and sold on eBay.com pieces of jewelry he received from a manufacturer in the Philippines unaffiliated with any federally recognized Native American tribe. The indictment alleges that Kowalis described the items for sale on eBay as “Native American Indian Handmade,” “Zuni,” “Navajo,” and “genuine Indian handcrafted” and received payment for the jewelry using the online payment platform, PayPal.com. As further alleged in the indictment, once he received payment Kowalis shipped the jewelry to the customer using the U.S. Postal Service including several packages containing counterfeit Native American-style jewelry to a purchaser in San Antonio.
“Native American art fraud is a serious crime that hurts consumers and severely impacts the economic and cultural livelihood of Native American artists, craftspeople and Tribes,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “Our special agents investigate crimes in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. By working together, we can help protect and preserve Native American art and craftwork for future generations.”
“The Indian Arts and Crafts Board is responsible for the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it a crime to sell counterfeit Indian art and craftwork. The Board is committed to protecting the integrity of Indian art. Texas has a vibrant Indian art market and we want consumers to have confidence that they are purchasing authentic work,” said Director Stanton. “We strongly commend our colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. As a result of their expertise, hard work, and dedication, in concert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Indian Arts and Crafts Act Investigative Unit, this alleged counterfeiter has now been stopped by this key indictment and arrest. This is a vital step in protecting Indian artists, economies, and culture.”
Upon conviction, Kowalis faces up to 20 years in federal prison for mail fraud and up to five years in federal prison for misrepresentation of Indian goods.
The USFWS Office of Law Enforcement with assistance from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, conducted this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney William F. Calve is prosecuting this case.
It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.