Juneau woman heads to trial in Native art scam case

Two downtown business owners tied to a Native art scam went to court this week. One walked out with a plea deal and the other with a trial date.

Juneau residents Vinod “Vinny” L. Sippy, 38, with Diamond Island, Icy Strait, and Gemstone Heaven; and Norma M. Carandang, 60, with Northstar Gift Shop appeared during an arraignment Monday in Juneau’s U.S. District Court for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The federal government brought charges against the two in March after an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Sippy pleaded guilty to selling bone carvings to an undercover USFWS agent in August and falsely presenting them as “Inuit Indian” work. The agent paid $1,985 for the pieces, according to an affidavit by assistant U.S. attorney Jack S. Schmidt. During Sippy’s arraignment, which also served as a sentencing because of a planned plea deal, he agreed to pay a $3,500 fine, make a $3,500 donation to the Indian Arts and Crafts board, distribute a public apology letter and he will serve five years of probation, according to the signed plea agreement.

Sippy is also supposed to clearly separate authentic Alaska Native crafts in his store from non-Alaska Native crafts throughout his probation, post signs in his store about Native art programs and create an Indian Arts and Crafts Act training program for his employees.

Carandang, who runs her shop with her husband Bernard Carandang, pleaded not guilty during the arraignment. Her trial is expected to begin June 27.

USFWS agents began investigating Carandang’s downtown shop after an out-of-state customer posted a complaint on the store’s Facebook page upset that a certificate of authenticity for bone carvings mailed to them by Carandang said “Alaskan Artist,” though in the store she told them the carvings were by an Alaskan Eskimo, according to an affidavit by Schmidt.

Undercover agents in June and August experienced a similar exchange of misinformation with Carandang. When USFWS agents approached Carandang about the matter in September, she told them she was always honest that the work she sold was “not native” but “just Alaskan.”

Three other Southeast Alaskans facing the same charge are Puerto Rican resident and Ketchikan business owner Gabriel T. Karim, 33, with Alaskan Heritage; Skagway resident and business owner Rosemary V. Libert, 56, with Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods, Inc.; and Libert’s seasonal employee, Judy M. Gengler, 65. Schmidt said Karim, Libert and Gengler each appeared telephonically for the arraignment in Juneau on Monday. According to court minutes, each pleaded not guilty, although a court date was not set for Karim and Gengler. Libert is scheduled to appear in court June 27.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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