Friday, 6 August 2010

Another Sentence in Four Corners Looting Case

Paul Foy, 'Utah man sentenced for artifact looting, Durango Herald 6th Aug 2010). There were moving scenes in a Salt Lake City court, on a par with many famous courtroom scenes from sentimental Hollywood movies:
A Utah man who once bragged about taking American Indian artifacts from federal lands avoided jail time Thursday after a federal judge said he decided to show leniency after reading letters from the man's two daughters. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said he planned to give Aubry Patterson, 57, prison time but changed his mind after reading the letters, which said Patterson was an "amazing father" who had a hard life but always "provided for us and put food on the table." Patterson's teary daughters accompanied him to court. Benson instead gave Patterson three years of probation, waiving guidelines that called for more than a year in prison.[...] "I think the word is getting out whether I put you in prison or not," the judge said. "Don't do anything stupid on probation".
Patterson was accused of having dug up valuable relics on federal lands surrounding his property outside Monticello in southeast Utah, he pleaded guilty in April to two felony theft charges (involving the sale of two bowls for $1,300 to an undercover agent). Prosecutors dropped six other counts involving the sale of additional artifacts. The guy knew he was breaking the law. If I ever go shoplifting in the USA, I will make sure I have some letters in my pocket saying I am an "amazing" dad and that my kids never went hungry either.
In secret recordings, Patterson said he knew when a ranger took his days off, but worried more about running across tourists who could give him away. He dug fresh holes on his property in case "someone comes asking" about the origin of his artifacts. He said he dug up burials - but not since he lost a son - and avoided caves where he could be trapped by law-enforcement officers. He said he would rather die than get caught. He circled on maps for the government agent where he had taken artifacts from Bureau of Land Management tracts - "You aren't going to show BLM?" - then signed certificates claiming the objects came from his own land.
The Amazing Dad also surrendered hundreds of artifacts (which he had been keeping at home with the fake holes outside it where he was raising his daughters to be model citizens able to write tearful letters). Patterson promised never to dig up any more artefacts from protected sites, and apologised in court "to the federal government and American Indian tribes".
Prosecutor Rich McKelvie said the prosecution has all but shut down the black market trade, and the judge agreed that the largest-ever such federal investigation has sent a message that artifact looting no longer is acceptable.
Well, that is not exactly what Judge Waddoups said, was it? Patterson has become the eighth defendant to receive leniency and avoid prison time after the Operation Cerberus sting operation which rounded up 26 defendants last summer in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. Charges are pending against 16 more defendants and an investigation remains open in Arizona and New Mexico.

I would say the real message this gives out is that although there are laws which envisage a specific penalty for stealing artefacts from and damaging protected sites in the US, it is unlikely anyone caught and convicted will actually receive the punishment envisaged by those laws. A second lesson is that in any case you are unlikely to get caught as it seems to me that the relevant authorities in the southwest are not ever going to mount an operation on this scale again after it has been proven that the US judiciary simply does not take protecting the archaeological resources of America from looting at all seriously.

1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

These are just the guys who got caught, and this is only the tip of the iceberg :(

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