Meet Mathew Bogdanos: The Greek-American NY prosecutor who hunts down antiquities smugglers (photos-video)

Greek-American in charge of NY special unit

Investigators raided the office and the Manhattan home of the billionaire Michael H. Steinhardt on Friday afternoon, carrying off several ancient works that prosecutors say were looted from Greece and Italy.


Mr. Steinhardt


Mr. Steinhardt, a hedge-fund manager and philanthropist, has been collecting art from ancient Greece for three decades and has close ties to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one of the galleries is named for him.

Among the pieces seized on Friday from Mr. Steinhardt was a Greek white-ground attic lekythos — or oil vessel — from the fifth century B.C., depicting a funeral scene with the figures of a woman and a youth, according to the search warrant. It is worth at least $380,000.

Also seized were Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C., depicting an owl and a duck, together worth about $250,000. The other pieces included an Apulian terra-cotta flask in the shape of an African head from the fourth century B.C.; an Ionian sculpture of a ram’s head from the sixth century; and an attic aryballos, a vessel for oil or perfume, from the early fifth century. The objects were all bought in the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million, according to the warrants.


The seizures marked the latest action in an effort by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to repatriate looted antiquities discovered in New York City to their countries of origin.

Last month, Mr. Vance formed an antiquities-trafficking bureau to continue the work, putting it under the leadership of Greek-American Matthew Bogdanos, an assistant district attorney who is a classics scholar and has headed most of the investigations.

Who is Mathew Bogdanos

Mathew played a pivotal role in recovering the stolen antiquities. He worked as a waiter in the family Greek restaurant in Lower Manhattan until he was assigned to the US Marine Reserve Body in January 1977 while still a rookie.


Eleven years later, in 1988, he resigned from active military service to become a member of the Manhattan Prosecutor’s Office but returned to the US Armed Forces after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers.


He has participated in drug-dealing operations at the Mexican-US border and was active during the Desert Storm operation, while was also involved in missions to South Korea, Lithuania, Guyana, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kosovo.


In March 2003 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and transferred to Iraq. It was there that he began to deal with stolen antiquities on account of the looting of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad.

030910-D-2987S-054 Colonel Matthew Bogdano, USMC, responds to a reporter's question during a Pentagon press briefing Sept. 10, 2003.  Bogdano, the leader of the team investigating the looting of Iraqi antiquities during Operation Iraqi Freedom, discusses his findings.  DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel  (for review)
The 61-year-old Matthew Bogdanos, who is married, with 4 children, is responsible for planning covert operations to dismantle smuggling rings of ancient artifacts. Mathew was responsible for establishing the New York Prosecutor’s Office antiquities smuggling department for the first time, with the service setting as its top priority the identification of antiquities that had been seized from Greece and their repatriation to Greece.

Recently he visited Komotini in Greece, attending a two-day seminar titled “Antiquities smuggling: History, Cultural, Political and Legal Management” organized by the Democritus University.
During his stay in Greece Bogdanos spoke to the Greek newspaper “Ethnos tis Kyriakis”. “I have understood that smuggling ancient artifacts is a dramatic problem. There are thousands of ancient pieces to be found and repatriated. And unfortunately few people deal with this problem. Once I realised it, I created this department in New York”, he said.

In the last three years, Matthew Bogdanos has helped to bring many stolen antiquities back to Greece. His efforts brought back five coins from the 5th century BC and a marble sarcophagus from the second century.
He visits Greece every year, but not as often as he wants. Mathew has cousins in Lemnos and relatives outside of Chania. In his mind, ancient and modern Greece are inseparable concepts. He sees them as a whole, a continuous entity throughout history.

Matthew used to be a pro boxer in the middleweight division with a 23 win, 3 loss record. He still steps into the ring today, but only for charity.

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