Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Collector asks FBI for help - but why the delay?

Peter Tompa, a lawyer in Washington DC, has drawn attention to an American news story about FBI agents "with a team of about 100 people" descending on the home of Dr Donald Miller, a 91-year-old man in central Indiana, to investigate his enormous collection. The eclectic assembly of pieces included "Native American artifacts and relics as well as items from the United States, China, Haiti, Australia, Russia, New Guinea, Italy, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Greece, Peru and possibly several other countries".

Despite huge media hype making the FBI operation sound like a raid, I gather Dr Miller willingly invited the government to help him dispose of his vast collection and repatriate relevant items since he is old, lives alone and has no heirs. Peter Tompa asks "Couldn't the matter [have] been handled far more discretely?". Well, most law enforcement agencies are not known for acting discretely. All too often, they tend to treat almost every operation like a scene out of Die Hard. However, it should be noted that much of the team consisted of scholarly "archaeologists and anthropologists" to help catalogue the items, not all iron-jawed agents toting guns. An explanation of the large number of people involved in the operation may well be that the FBI thoughtfully wanted to process the items as quickly as possible so that they would soon be out of Dr Miller's way rather than prolonging any disruption.

I feel sorry for the elderly Dr Miller - but my sympathy is mixed with a question. Why has he left all this until he is 91 years old? Collecting entails responsibility. He clearly suspected parts of his collection might be unlawful or at least unethical. If he had dealt with this himself many years ago, this current situation could have been avoided. Now it has to be dealt with at the taxpayers' expense. At this point, we can only speculate on the reasons for the delay.

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