Death of Roxana Brown
Dr. Roxana Brown, an expert on southeast Asian ceramics who lived in Bangkok, Thailand, died while in custody in a Seattle prison on Wednesday morning. Dr. Brown had been arrested for a single count of wire fraud, the first arrest to come out of the federal government's aggressive probe into the antiquities trade and donations to Los Angeles museums. According to a story in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dr. Brown died of peritonitis from a perforated gastric ulcer. Her brother, Dr Fred Brown of Chicago, previously reported that she died of a heart attack which he believed was brought about by the stress of her arrest.
Dr. Brown was the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, and she had been confined to a wheelchair after losing her leg in the 1980s. She was in Seattle visiting family as she prepared to speak before an academic conference.
Federal investigators asserted Wednesday that Dr. Brown allowed her electronic signature to be placed on appraisal forms that were part of a tax fraud scheme in California. The perpetrator of the tax fraud scheme, Jonathan Markell, operated the private gallery "Silk Roads." Markell allegedly inflated the value of ceramic artifacts donated to museums, allowing collectors to claim fraudulent tax deductions. Archaeologists and museum curators interviewed in Thailand by the Bangkok Post expressed considerable skepticism regarding the evidence so far presented against Dr. Brown.
Derek Fincham gives some of the back story of the federal antiquities probe in his post at Illicit Cultural Property. I also wrote a previous post in this blog about the museum raids back on January 27th.