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Asian art expert dies in custody

May 15, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

An internationally known expert on Asian art who was implicated in a scheme to smuggle looted antiquities from Thailand to Los Angeles-area museums died Wednesday at a federal detention center in Seattle four days after being arrested there on a visit from Bangkok.

Roxanna Brown, 62, director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University, had traveled to Seattle for a speaking engagement at the University of Washington, authorities said.

She was a focal point of a widening federal probe that was launched with highly publicized raids on four Southern California museums in January. Hours before her arrest at a Seattle hotel, she had been indicted Friday on a federal wire fraud charge that accused her of inflating the value of the plundered antiquities.

The American-born Brown, who was trained in art history at UCLA, apparently died of a heart attack around 2:30 a.m. at the detention center, between Seattle and Tacoma. Extradition to Los Angeles on the charge was pending, authorities said.

Officials said Brown was too ill to attend a court hearing Monday in Seattle but made a brief appearance Tuesday. She faced up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Brown was the first person to be arrested in the probe. Her apprehension surprised many who knew and respected her as "the epitome of the academic expert," as one art historian put it to the Bangkok Post.

But federal investigators asserted that Brown allowed her electronic signature to be placed on fake appraisal forms that inflated the value of pieces from Thailand's Ban Chiang archaeological site that were sent to Southern California museums. The phony appraisals allowed collectors to claim fraudulent tax deductions, according to authorities.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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