In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green acknowledged "regrettable mistakes" that he chalked up to inexperience.
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"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Green said, adding that the firm fully cooperated with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Hobby Lobby is perhaps best known for its Supreme Court victory in a 2014 religious freedom case over contraception. The family that owns the company is also bankrolling a $500 million Museum of the Bible slated to open in Washington in the fall.
In 2009, the company decided to amass a collection of books and artifacts "consistent with the Company’s mission and passion for the Bible." Green and a consultant traveled to the United Arab Emirates to inspect cuneiform tablets that were thousands of years old, along with engraved seals and the clay impressions they made.
According to a civil complaint, an expert hired by Hobby Lobby had warned its in-house lawyer that there was a risk the items it wanted to buy had been looted and counseled them to make sure the country of origin was properly labeled on customs forms.
Instead, prosecutors said, the 5,500 artifacts were shipped without proper documentation, with labels that described them simply as "ceramic tiles" or "samples" from Turkey or Israel. The company didn't pay the dealer who supposedly owned the items, instead wiring $1.6 million in payment to the accounts of seven other individuals.
Green said Hobby Lobby didn't know the items were from Iraq and has put safeguards in place to ensure future acquisitions are properly vetted.
Tracy Connor is a senior writer for NBC News. She started this role in December, 2012. Connor is responsible for reporting and writing breaking news, features and enterprise stories for NBCNews.com. Connor joined NBC News from the New York Daily News, where she was a senior writer covering a broad range of news and supervising the health and immigration beats. Prior to that she was an assistant city editor who oversaw breaking news and the courts and entertainment beats.
Earlier, Connor was a staff writer at the New York Post, United Press International and Brooklyn Paper Publications.
Connor has won numerous awards from journalism organizations including the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.