Hobby Lobby becomes controversial for an entirely new reason

A Hobby Lobby store in Denver on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
A Hobby Lobby store in Denver on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

There was a point in which Hobby Lobby was just an arts-and-crafts retail chain. Those days, however, are long gone.

Hobby Lobby, owned by Christian conservative Steve Green, rose to political and legal prominence when the company argued that its corporate spirituality entitles Hobby Lobby to deny contraception coverage to its employees. Green also made headlines for creating a Bible curriculum to be used in public schools.

But Hobby Lobby's owners have also become known for collecting rare artifacts for a new museum dedicated to the Bible, which is scheduled to open later this year just a couple of blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. What we didn't know is how Green and his family obtained those artifacts.

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby will pay $3 million to settle a federal case over smuggled Iraqi antiquities it bought to demonstrate its "passion for the Bible."The Oklahoma-based retailer also agreed to forfeit thousands of clay artifacts it bought in 2010 -- an acquisition that prosecutors said was "fraught with red flags" the company didn't heed.

Green acknowledged "regrettable mistakes" in a written statement.

NBC News' report noted that Hobby Lobby hired an expert who warned that the artifacts may have been looted "and counseled them to make sure the country of origin was properly labeled on customs forms." Instead, according to the Justice Department, "the 5,500 artifacts were shipped without proper documentation."

The report added, "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."

The Justice Department's statement, released late yesterday, is available here. Hobby Lobby's Museum of the Bible is still apparently scheduled to open its doors in November.