Asian-antiquities expert held in SeaTac dies in custody
A renowned Asian-antiquities expert, indicted in Los Angeles in connection with a federal investigation into illegal trafficking of pilfered...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A renowned Asian-antiquities expert, indicted in Los Angeles in connection with a federal investigation into illegal trafficking of pilfered Southeast Asian art, died early Wednesday morning in the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
Roxanna Brown, 62, the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, was found dead about 2:30 a.m., said Federal Detention Center spokeswoman Maggie Ogden. She was arrested last week in Seattle, where she was scheduled to speak at the University of Washington.
An autopsy was performed by the King County Medical Examiner's Office on Wednesday, although the results were not immediately available. Brown's brother, Fred Brown, of Chicago, told The Associated Press that her death was due to an apparent heart attack.
Fred Brown said his sister maintained she was innocent, and he blamed the stress of her arrest for her death. "She wasn't in good health to begin with, but they definitely brought on the heart attack," he said.
Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, said Roxanna Brown was checked by medical staff members at the Federal Detention Center on Monday.
Ogden did not return several telephone calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
Brown became interested in Asian art while a journalist covering the Vietnam War, and she rose to become one of the foremost authorities on the ancient-ceramics trade in Southeast Asia.
Brown was arrested at a Seattle hotel Friday as she prepared to have dinner with colleagues from the UW, where she was scheduled to speak the next day.
Had been ill
Brown, who lost a leg in an accident in 1980, was in a wheelchair and was suffering from flulike symptoms severe enough to postpone her initial court appearance on Monday.
She appeared before a U.S. magistrate briefly Tuesday, and she was scheduled for another hearing Wednesday to pave the way for her extradition to Los Angeles.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, the Los Angeles prosecutor heading the illegal-antiquities investigation, said Brown was "one of many targets" of the probe. He declined to say how her death would affect the investigation.
Brown, who lived in Bangkok, was indicted on a single count of wire fraud for allegedly allowing her electronic signature to be used on appraisal forms of items donated to museums.
Those appraisals, according to court documents, were inflated so that the donors could claim fraudulent tax deductions.
Some of the smuggled artifacts were allegedly taken from the Ban Chiang archaeological site in Udon Thani, one of the most significant prehistoric settlements ever found in Southeast Asia, according to court documents.
Federal agents raided a number of Southern California art galleries in January, including the Silk Roads Gallery in L.A.
According to an affidavit filed in connection with the searches, the gallery's owners helped an undercover agent obtain an appraisal — over Brown's signature — of just under $5,000 for several items the agent purchased for $1,500 cash.
Other than Brown's, no criminal charges have been filed. Johns said there is no evidence that any Washington state museums are involved in the alleged fraud.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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