Two Dozen Arrested in Native American Artifact Sting

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Salt Lake City—After a two-year undercover investigation, 24 people were indicted earlier this week on charges of stealing, receiving or attempting to sell a variety of Native American artifacts.

The two dozen people named in the indictment were apparently part of a network of people who engaged in the illegal activities surrounding the artifacts, which included pipes, bowls, jars, arrowheads, jewelry and clothing in addition to burial objects. They are accused of having illegally excavated the items, as well as dealing or collecting them.

Federal officials called this the largest-ever investigation into the theft of archaeological items. In the investigation, four Bureau of Land Management officials and four Federal Bureau of Investigation agents maintained contact with an anonymous source, who had come forward in 2006 in order to help stop the ring of theft. The source allegedly had more than a decade’s worth of experience in dealing in these artifacts.

While wearing a wire or a hidden camera, the source transacted with members of the network to purchase 256 artifacts, paying $335,000 in total.

The artifacts were taken from the Four Corners area of Utah, which was once home to the Anasazi, or ancestral Puebloan, culture, and which has long been the home of thousands of archaeological treasures. It is illegal to remove artifacts from either public of Indian lands without either a permit or permission from the landowner.

The suspects in this case, who range in age from 27 to 78 and who are from Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, are charged with violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Additionally, some of the suspects face charges of trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government or tribal property. They could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

“These treasures are the heritage of all Americans, and in many cases, the objects are sacred to Native Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman. “Those who remove or damage artifacts on public or tribal lands are taking something from all of us.”

The stolen objects, most of which had come from Bureau of Land Management property or tribal lands, would have fetched high prices on the black markets in both the United States and other countries. Artifacts which were recovered in the sting operation will be returned either to Native American tribes, or to museums celebrating Native American cultural heritage.

 

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