Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Another Plea 'Deal' in Four Corners Looting Case

Antiquities dealer Vern Crites was one of 26 people charged as a result of the Four Corners operation Cerberus investigating looting of and trade in artefacts from land protected by US laws. He has already surrendered five truckloads of Native American relics to Federal authorities.
The 75-year-old dealer was described in government affidavits as a “price setter” for antiquities because of his influence over the market. Federal agents say he had an astonishing collection confiscated from his Durango home in January.
It is now being reported that he will "settle charges" of digging up a grave and plundering artifacts from federal lands. Vern Crites had been scheduled to take a plea deal on Tuesday at federal court in Salt Lake City, but the hearing was cancelled because of a snowstorm.

Another Durango man has pleaded guilty to removing an ancient human skull, pottery and a stone knife from federal land in the Four Corners of southern Utah.
Richard Bourret pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Salt Lake City to a felony charge of unauthorized excavation. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson scheduled sentencing for Feb. 1. Sixty-one-year-old Bourret faces a maximum of two years in prison, but prosecutors plan to recommend leniency as part of a deal that’ll drop two other charges. Crites and Bourret are expected to be ordered at sentencing to pay for damage at the San Juan County, Utah, dig site.

The newspaper helpfully adds:
The Four Corners once was the center of ancestral Puebloan culture, and it is a treasure trove of archaeological artifacts, Mark Michel, president of the Archaeological Conservancy, a national group based in Albuquerque told The Durango Herald in June 2009, when Vern and Marie Crites were arrested as part of sting operation targeting suspected illegal trades in stolen artifacts.
"There are thousands of archaeological sites in (the Four Corners), and I’ve never seen one that hasn’t had some looting,” Michel, who as worked in the area for 30 years, told the Herald.

This report sits uncomfortably with the texts which the US collectors of ancient dugup coins from foreign countries are producing. They bleat on and on about how its "not their fault" that sites are looted, that foreign nations must guard their archaeological sites from looting before they will stop buying anonymously imported artefacts no-questions-asked. Yet in their own land, the United States, they cannot afford or manage to do what collectors demand from the citizens of poorer countries. The "source countries" should enforce their laws more vigorously the collectors say - and yet after a costly two year operation to strike at the network of endemic looting and illcit dealing in the US Southwest we see plea bargain after plea bargain, letting people get off with a slap on the wrist instead of the jail sentences that the law allows. US law, upheld by US judges, one of whom said in effect that he was not going to give a proper sentence because he thought looting archaeological sites was a normal thing to do.

The words "private property" figure prominently in US antiquity collecting circles, once they've bought an artefact, it is THEIRS, sacrosanct, and nobody - they insist - has a right to question its origin. Yet Vern Crites' home was emptied of a collection which took five trucks to haul off. Where are the "collectors' rights" advocates? Why has this seizure (if that is what it was) received absolutely no attention in the discussions of the "private property rights" of US ancient artefact collectors? One would have thought that they would take great interest in precisely why Crites was required to surrender his "private property" a collection built up over a number of years, and why he agreed to do so. One would have thought that ancient dugup coin collectors in the US ought to be wondering if the same thing could happen to them too. But no, complete silence on the issue, because they insist that there is a vast gulf between pot-diggers at home and coin-diggers abroad. The reasons why they see them as completely different phenomena are never articulated, personally I see none at all.

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