Prosecutors sue Ketchikan jeweler for selling fake gold

The storefront of Soni Jewelers in Ketchikan on May 23, 2024. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

A jeweler who operates two stores in downtown Ketchikan is being sued by the state for allegedly selling counterfeit gold.

Attorney General Treg Taylor filed suit Thursday against Soni, Inc., which owns Soni Jewelers and Colors Fine Jewelry, as well as a branch of Tongass Trading Company. The two stores are located in the heart of downtown Ketchikan, directly across from the cruise ship docks.

The complaint also mentions the company's director, Sunita “Soni” Lakhwani, by name. When asked for comment, KRBD was told that Lakhwani was out of town and unreachable.

Assistant Attorney General Ian Engelbeck said state investigators made a series of undercover purchases at the stores that sell Alaska-themed jewelry during the cruise season.

“In mid-September, our undercover agent made a purchase that was presented to her as a gold quartz ring containing gold quartz mined in Alaska,” Engelbeck said. “We concluded that we believed it was a fake and filed a seizure order in Ketchikan Superior Court.”

They obtained this seizure warrant, which allowed authorities to confiscate ten pieces of jewelry from each store. The state said they tested them in a lab and determined they were artificial “gold nuggets” and “gold quartz” from out-of-state suppliers.

According to the complaint, Soni, Inc. passed off this imported fake gold as natural stones and nuggets mined in Northern Alaska and handcrafted into jewelry by jewelers, predominantly based in Ketchikan. Salespeople also allegedly told undercover agents that natural gold quartz is only found in Alaska and can only be legally purchased there, which is false.

“In addition, Soni Inc. salespeople direct customers to Soni Inc. jewelry that looks like gold nuggets and claim that they are 24-karat Alaska gold nuggets,” prosecutors say in the complaint. “In fact, laboratory testing and the inventory control labels on many of these 'nuggets,' including some that undercover agents were told were 24-karat Alaska gold nuggets, show that they are actually imitation 14-karat gold nuggets shaped to resemble a natural nugget.”

One of the people at the store who allegedly gave false information to undercover investigators was Lakhwani herself. The complaint states that when questioned by investigators, Lakhwani admitted that she was not sure where the jewelry was made, but knew the stones were not from Alaska as stated. A Soni Jewelry employee allegedly told investigators, “Everyone thinks this is from Alaska. So if the customer asks, 'Is it from Alaska?' I'm probably going to say 'yes'… But the piece is from LA.”

“These cases are important because they obviously hurt tourists who think they are buying a genuine item,” Engelbeck said. “It also hurts Alaska businesses and communities that are trying to do the right thing and sell the original, and it hurts the Alaska artisans who make the original, and when imitations are sold as genuine, the original is driven out of the market.”

Prosecutors asked Ketchikan Superior Court for a temporary restraining order to prevent Soni, Inc. from continuing to sell fraudulent and misrepresented products. As of Tuesday afternoon, downtown stores were still open and ready for the tourist season.

Anna Harden

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