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Two Utahns plead guilty in sweeping artifacts case

By Mike Stark
Salt Lake City, Utah (AP) April 2010

Two southern Utah residents pleaded guilty last week to stealing government property and illegally trafficking in American Indian artifacts.

Brent Bullock and Tammy Shumway were among 26 people indicted after a long-running federal sting targeting those who illegally dig up, sell and collect Indian artifacts in the Four Corners area. Both initially pleaded not guilty to several felony charges after the case broke last summer.

Each faces a maximum of 12 years in prison. Sentencing is set for July.

Bullock, 61, sold several ancient Indian items to an undercover operative in 2007, including a blanket fragment for $2,000 and a hoe-like tool for $500, according to court documents. He also offered to sell several ceramic figurines taken from U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

Bullock said he wanted to sell the items because he was in debt, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Investigators said Bullock acknowledged to the informant that the items came from public land in Utah but filled out paperwork saying they were from private land in Colorado.

Shumway, who introduced Bullock to the informant, was charged because the 40-year-old woman aided and abetted the deals and signed a falsified paper about the items’ origin as a witness, federal officials said.

In U.S. District Court on Monday, Bullock and Shumway acknowledged they knew the items had been illegally dug up from public land in Utah. As part of a plea deal, they each pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government property. Prosecutors agreed to seek a reduced sentence.

They said little in court last week except to acknowledge details of the plea agreement and the charges. They declined to comment after the hearing.

Bullock’s attorney, Earl Xaiz, said his client was never into artifact collecting for the money and hadn’t planned to sell any of them before he was approached by the government informant.

The cases are among the first to be resolved following one of the nation’s largest investigations into artifact looting on public and tribal lands in the Southwest.

Starting in 2007, Utah antiquities dealer Ted Gardiner spent more than two years working with the FBI and the Bureau of Land Management, striking deals for more than 250 artifacts worth more than $335,000. Many of the transactions were secretly recorded.

Court papers said Gardiner was typically paid $7,500 a month.

Of the 26 indicted, two people committed suicide shortly after the charges were announced. Two others, a mother and daughter from Blanding, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation in September.

Gardiner died March 1 from a self-inflicted gunshot after a standoff with police in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Trials for several other defendants are scheduled for this spring and summer.