Skip to main content

24 indicted in theft of Native American artifacts

  • Story Highlights
  • 24 indicted for selling, buying, exchanging archaeological artifacts
  • Artifacts stolen from Native American lands
  • Authorities recovered 256 artifacts worth about $335,685
  • Undercover investigation tracked suspects for more than two years
By Khadijah Rentas
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- Federal authorities indicted 24 people Wednesday on charges of selling, buying or exchanging archaeological artifacts stolen from Native American lands -- part of what Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar called a crackdown on smugglers of such relics.

The artifacts include burial and ceremonial masks, decorated pottery and a buffalo-hide headdress, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

"Let this case serve notice to anyone who is considering breaking these laws and trampling our nation's cultural heritage that the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], the Department of Justice and the federal government will track you down and bring you to justice," said Salazar, who was in Salt Lake City, Utah, to announce the crackdown.

President Obama is "committed to a new relationship with America's first Americans," Salazar said, adding that Wednesday's announcements of indictments was a show of that commitment.

Officials said the artifacts -- some stolen from grave sites -- were taken from the Four Corners area, so called because it is the intersection of four states: Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The area also has a rich history of Native American culture. The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department manages the Four Corners Monument, which attracts tourists as the only point in the United States where four states come together at one point.

Authorities recovered 256 artifacts worth about $335,685, said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.

About 150 agents assisted in an undercover investigation that tracked the suspects for more than two years, Ogden said. They had the help of an individual who knew about the smuggling ring, officials said. The investigation is ongoing, said Ogden.

The recovered artifacts are evidence, but at some point after the investigation those that are privately owned will be returned to their owners, said Craig Leff, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management.

The suspects face charges carrying sentences ranging from one to 10 years in prison for violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation, Ogden said.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print