Sunday, 1 May 2011

Four Corners Fiasco: Joseph M. Smith and his Artefact Collection

From Kimberly Alderman's Cultural Property & Archaeology Law blog:
Federal prosecutors have entered into deals in three more of the Four Corners antiquities trafficking cases. For Meredith Smith, they’ll drop the charges if she doesn’t get charged with any other crimes in the next six months. Tad Kreth had his charges reduced from 17 counts to 1, and the prosecutors will recommend probation. And Joseph Smith has had his charges reduced from 38 counts to 1, and he’ll have to forfeit the Native American artifacts he owns.
Kimberly calls this "The Four Corners Sideshow" and accuses the authorities of "overcharging" the defendants to justify the scale of the operation. She subtitles her blog "A legal resource for archaeology and cultural property enthusiasts", but I am not quite sure what sort of message she intends sending archaeology "enthusiasts" by what she writes. The United States is arguably at the moment one of the largest markets in the world for looted archaeological artefacts. As such, one would expect the cultured people of that nation would be doing something about it, reducing the damaging effects of the actions of the cowboys and dodgy dealers in their midst rather than encouraging them. But instead we can see that they cannot even deal with the destroyers of the archaeological heritage in their own country and many of those talking about the issues over there are lawyers who seem from what they write almost to side with the eroders of history. But then there is big money in collecting, isn't there?

As for the scale of the operation, what is being investigated in cases like this is usually an exceptionally clandestine process. “ARPA investigations can be as complex as murder cases,” Todd Swain said in a 2007 analysis ('Cultural Resource damage on the Public Lands, what the statistics Show' (Yearbook of Cultural Property Law 7). They do need the expenditure of considerable resources, which is what makes it frustrating that cases like this, instead of awakening concern about the ongoing looting of America's archaeological heritage, there is more criticism of the authorities for trying to deal with the problem despite the obvious hindrance the crappy US laws and lack of a centrally coordinated heritage protection system create.

Whether or not anyone was "overcharged" is debatable. I note that Joseph M. Smith , 31, from Blanding mentioned above has (had) an "artefact collection" which presumably federal authorities had reason to believe contains items illicitly obtained (I assume he'll not be losing anything which is properly 'papered' with positive proof of licit provenance). He was initially charged (together with some other people) with a number of counts of selling items which it was alleged were obtained illegally. But that is not his whole collection, and one may presume the transactions mentioned in the charge sheet are only those for which federal authorities (claim to) have documented proof. According to the Salt Lake Tribune article 'A breakdown of the artifact theft charges', they are: "17 felony counts of violating ARPA, eight felony counts of theft of government property, two felony counts of theft of Indian tribal property, one misdemeanor count of theft of Indian tribal property". Smith however admits going onto land and taking artefacts from where he should not have.
Hamilton said his client, Joseph M. Smith, intends to admit in court that he took artifacts from public lands. “But what he is guilty of is a misdemeanor.” [...] “He wasn’t like some of the others that had literally truckloads of artifacts,” Hamilton said. “He was more of a construction worker who walks through the desert.”
The additional charges were dropped because of uncertainty about the financial value of the artefacts concerned.

Then there was Carl Lavern Crites "two felony counts of violating ARPA, two felony counts of theft of government property, one felony count depredation of government property". Crites is a collector and dealer of American Indian items. Overcharged? He had just three objects in his store and collection? Or is every single other item in his store and collection papered showing undeniable licit origin? Another cultural property lawyer with an ambiguous position on this case Derek Fincham points out, there is "no obligation" in US law for them to have so (and he is right of course - US law is woefully deficient in several regards where cultural property issues are concerned). Crites however admitted to taking part in illegal excavation of an ancient (Native American) grave looking for collectable artefacts in September 2008. Was this really the first and only time he'd ever done anything like this, or was it the only occasion where Federal authorities could document it?

Then we have the Redds, James, Jeanne and Jerrica. A sad case as James - who had reportedly been in trouble with the law before over related matters, but not only - decided to commit suicide rather than face the charges. But rather oddly it was his wife that was the cause of the raid on their home in June. She surrendered a collection of over 800 artefacts in 112 boxes (it needed two trucks to take them away). Again was this collection properly papered with collecting histories showing licit origins? Mention is made in the receipt of lots and lots of artefacts, but not a single mention of any files of documentation or collection catalogue cards. She was initially charged on seven or eight counts, her husband only one of them (together with her) and the daughter with three which apparently emerged during examination of whatever evidence there was about how the artefacts in their home were obtained.

But this was apparently not the first time that the artefact collecting activities of the Redd family had brought them into conflict with the authorities ('Couple agree to pay fine for digging up Anasazi site').
In 1996, a San Juan County sheriff's deputy found the Redds and several children digging near prehistoric ruins in Cottonwood Wash near Bluff. Charges were first filed the following year. The charges included desecration of a corpse, a felony. The charge against James Redd, 52, was dismissed. Assistant Utah Attorney General Joanne Slotnik said that was because Jeanne Redd "was the prime mover and the one most interested in these sorts of relics." The state's suit alleged the Redds destroyed a prehistoric grave site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jeanne Redd's plea agreement argued that if an ancient grave had been disturbed, it was on private land.
Reportedly "They asserted they had the right to dig at an Anasazi ruin on private land, but a survey later showed the site was on state land" (Joe Bauman, 'Anasazi case is finally put to rest', Deserte news Jan. 26, 2003). They had been threatened by a $250,000 lawsuit brought by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration which James and Jeanne Redd apparently settled by making a payment of $10,000 in 2003. Despite this, the Redd family apparently continued to collect artefacts, and the raid on June 10th 2009 and the consequent charges were the results of this. In the case of the acquisition of at least seven of those artefacts federal authorities believed they could document illicit origins, and in the event Jeanne Redd pleaded guilty to all seven. What 'overcharging' was applied here?

Neither do I think it likely that the two dozen people investigated and charged as a result of Operation Cerberus are the only people in the Four Corners area involved in the illegal acquisition of artefacts from the looting of archaeological sites in the region. Judge Waddoups seems to express the idea that since everybody has been doing it, it would be invidious to give those actually caught doing it sentences as severe as the law lays down. But these people all know that in doing what they do they are breaking the law (I expect they themselves would add "technically"). This looting of protected sites is clearly a huge problem and - despite the existence of laws ostensibly to protect the US archaeological resource - the US judicial system now seems to be giving a signal that the US administration actually intends to do nothing much about it. They are just giving offenders a slap on the wrist, and an admonition 'not to do it again'. That's what, for example, the Redds got in 2003, but six years later and apparently eight hundred dugup artefacts later, that is what they seem to have been found to have been doing.

Vignette: Anasazi bowl, Chaco Canyon - this one not looted.

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