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Originally published Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bangkok museum director arrested during Seattle trip

University of Washington associate professor Bill Lavely was waiting in the lobby of the Watertown Hotel Friday but his dinner guest, a...

University of Washington associate professor Bill Lavely was waiting in the lobby of the Watertown Hotel Friday but his dinner guest, a visiting scholar, didn't show up. So he called up to her room.

"I'm being arrested," Lavely said Roxanna Brown told him. "I'll be down shortly," she added.

Lavely, who was sitting with two colleagues in the lobby, was stunned. He had no idea what Brown meant. Brown is the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, and she had traveled to the U.S. for a symposium at Lavely's invitation.

She was due to deliver a speech — "The Sea Trade from China to Southeast Asia" — at 2 p.m. Saturday at the UW.

Lavely had been planning to have dinner with her at his home Friday night.

He waited another 10 minutes, wondering what to do, before taking the elevator up to her room, where he knocked on the door.

A federal agent opened it, with two others close behind: "We have some official business going on here," they told Lavely, before escorting Brown down the corridor and out of the hotel to the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.

Brown remained there Monday, according to federal records.

She was indicted in connection with a federal investigation into looted Southeast Asian antiquities. She is charged with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

Health problems prevented her from appearing in federal court in Seattle on Monday, and it was unclear when the hearing would be rescheduled, prosecutors said.

Brown is accused of allowing her electronic signature to be used on appraisal forms for items that were donated at inflated prices to several Southern California museums so collectors could claim fraudulent tax deductions.

Michael Filipovic, a public defender appointed to represent Brown temporarily in Seattle, said he did not know whether she had hired an attorney to fight the federal charges in California. He declined to comment on the allegations in the indictment.

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Lavely said he had met Brown for the first time Thursday, when he picked her up from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She had been recommended to him by a colleague at UCLA.

Lavely said Brown, 62, struck him as someone who had lived an unusual life. She told him she'd moved from the U.S. to Asia as a journalist during the Vietnam War and had stayed on since. She'd finished her doctoral work only in recent years.

"It's not the typical life course of a scholar. But she was interesting," Lavely said. "And we were very happy she had come. It's a long way from Thailand. To have it end under these circumstances is really quite shocking."

The UW symposium continued Saturday with other scheduled speakers and events. Lavely announced to guests that Brown was "unable to attend."

Brown is the first person to be arrested in an ongoing probe into looted artifacts. Federal agents raided several Southern California museums and a Los Angeles gallery in January, searching for artifacts allegedly taken from Thailand's Ban Chiang archaeological site, one of the most important prehistoric settlements ever discovered in Southeast Asia.

An affidavit filed in the case said the gallery's owners, Jonathan and Cari Markell, used Brown's electronic signature several times to falsify appraisal forms. In one case, an appraisal for items to be donated to the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif., claims Brown had inspected the items.

The couple have not been charged. They previously declined to comment about the investigation to The Associated Press. Jonathan Markell did not immediately respond to an e-mail Monday.

The raids followed an undercover investigation by a National Park Service special agent who posed as a collector interested in various artifacts. The agent learned that some of the artifacts managed to pass through U.S. Customs because they had "Made in Thailand" labels affixed to them, making it appear they were replicas.

Court documents said the Markells and the agent met more than a dozen times and regularly e-mailed and called one another about antiquities from Southeast Asia. Some of the calls and meetings were recorded, the warrants said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Nick Perry and Associated Press writers Greg Risling and Gene Johnson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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