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AFTER THE WAR

Former Fox News Employee Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Iraqi Paintings

June 04, 2003|From Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Fox News technician who took a dozen paintings from an Iraqi palace and brought them into the United States pleaded guilty to smuggling Tuesday.

Benjamin James Johnson, 27, of Alexandria could be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison for the single count, but his attorney, Christopher Amolsch, said prosecutors have indicated they will not seek jail time.

The paintings were taken from the palace of Uday Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Most of the paintings depicted Uday and Saddam Hussein.

Customs agents discovered the paintings, along with two chemical suits, a gas mask and some Iraqi monetary bonds, in Johnson's luggage at Washington Dulles International Airport when he returned from Iraq on April 17. None of the items had been declared to customs officials.

Fox fired Johnson after he acknowledged bringing back the items.

Amolsch said his client has no prior criminal record and did not know he was breaking the law by bringing the paintings to the U.S.

Johnson, who is to be sentenced Aug. 29, also was charged with lying to federal agents, but prosecutors dropped that count as part of his plea bargain.

Kevin Bell, a spokesman for the Bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement, said the government would return the paintings to Iraq.

Bell said no other media members have been charged with smuggling items out of Iraq. In April, customs officials confiscated souvenirs from a Boston Herald reporter when he returned from Kuwait, but he was not charged. The Herald said he had declared the items.

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