Looking ahead: 2012 and beyond

With 2012 now upon us, SAFE looks forward to the coming year with anticipation, and offers a few predictions.

As discussion and publicity surrounding the repatriation of antiquities continues and public awareness and media focus on the actions of source countries (Italy, Greece, Peru, Turkey, Egypt, Bulgaria, etc.) increase, the return of cultural patrimony will accelerate during 2012 and the years that follow. The question is no longer whether such artifacts will be returned. In most cases, the only question is when.

Repatriation by U.S. museums and collectors in recent years (some 130 artifacts have already returned to Italy; the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s return to the upper half of the Weary Herakles to Turkey occurred this past year; Yale University’s transfer of Macchu Picchu artifacts back to Peru began in 2011 and will be completed by December 2012) provide incentive for source countries to continue their investigation to identify and seek the return of their cultural patrimony from museums around the world … with particular focus on objects shown among the thousands of photographs discovered by Italian police (the Giacomo Medici Archive seized at the Geneva Freeport in 1995), by Swiss authorities and Greek investigators. This vast trove of photos now in the hands of researchers, law enforcement and prosecutors and cultural attaches in several countries will continue to serve as source material during the coming year for the return of objects acquired by various museums (e.g., the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, the Miho Museum in Japan, the Toledo Museum of Art, and others.

Meanwhile, continuing issues at U.S. museums will be resolved (or very nearly so), such as the case that pits the St. Louis Art Museum against the U.S. government over ownership of a 3,200-year-old mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, which disappeared from the inventory of the Cairo Museum in the late 1950s and was sold to SLAM for $500,000 in 1998. We predict the matter will be decided during the coming year. And in southern Utah, we expect another shoe to drop in the ongoing Four Corners antiquities trafficking case with more hand-wringing over FBI methods and the DOJ’s duty to enforce laws that prohibit illegal digging and theft of artifacts on federal or Indian lands.

Finally, in response to the aggressive and well-organized destruction of archaeological sites in China a crackdown on antiquities theft in Shanxi, Henan and other effected provinces will continue as Chinese authorities seek to preserve the estimated five percent of all archaeological sites on the mainland that have not yet been plundered. As for a different kind of plunder, will the much publicized Chinese mission to track down and document objects that have been taken from Yuanmingyuan (Beijing’s “Old Summer Palace”) result in a request for their return?

All told, 2012 promises to be an interesting and eventful year. Best wishes to all.

"Operation CERBERUS Action": Neither overkill nor justice

The September 24 Deseret News raised the question: “Overkill or justice? Costly 5-year-old artifacts case nets no prison time and 3 suicides, but retrieves Native American treasures and raises awareness”. The case referred to is Operation CERBERUS Action, aimed at the illegal trafficking of Native American artifacts in the Four Corners area, previously discussed here.

SAFE has expressed disappointment over the lenient sentencing following the arrests made under Operation CERBERUS Action. According to a June 10, 2009 Department of Justice press release the operation was the nation’s largest investigation of archaeological and cultural artifact thefts, involving dozens of defendants. In the Redds case alone, eight hundred and twelve Native American artifacts were forfeited, reportedly requiring two trucks to remove them from the Redds’s residence.

Neither overkill nor justice, we believe the outcome shows disrespect for the federal agents and informants who put themselves at risk to make the case, and to the public, which paid for the prosecution. Most disturbingly, the leniency sends the message that the law — in this case, Archaeological Resources Protection Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act — are unimportant or do not apply to the Four Corners region, and will encourage rather than deter looters.

We suspect that the descendants of those whose burial grounds were desecrated and whose remains were destroyed by looters would agree.

According to the Deseret News article, Bureau of Land Management assistant special agent in charge Dan Love said “the case remains active” and indictments in other states are pending. We continue to hope that future sentencing in such cases will more closely adhere to the recommendations of Federal Guidelines.

Photo: Native American antiquities were seized in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. (BLM)

"Wait a moment, this is a person … not a thing"

Charles Q. Choi of LiveScience tells the story of illegal smuggling of mummies – a practice with a long history – which is a growing segment in the worldwide black market trade in illicit antiquities worth “billions of dollars” today. In “NY Mummy Smugglers Reveal Vast Antiquities Black Market” Choi showcases the July 13 announcement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) about the dismantling of the first international smuggling ring of this type to reach the U.S.

In the informative story, Egyptologist Regine Schulz, curator of ancient art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore talks about the history of mummification and how “mummies were seen as objects back then, not people,” until “[p]eople began to say, ‘Wait a moment, this is a person that should be treated in a respectful way, not a thing[.]'” Moreover, “people are more interested in their coffins or maybe a nest of coffins, in what is around the mummy. The mummy itself is not the highest priority.” In other words, human remains of persons, who happen to be people’s ancestors, have become collateral damage to feed the black market antiquities trade.

According to Choi, while the black market for mummies and Egyptian antiquities has diminished somewhat due to strict laws nationally and internationally, the recent uprising “may have made it easier for criminals to loot the country.” (Please see our posts on this subject here, here and here.) This is why we care about the cultural heritage of Egypt – now.

The situation in Egypt parallels others around the world; for example, Utah’s “Four Corners” cases, where looters tore apart American Indian burial sites and scattered human remains in search of funerary objects; and Damien Huffer’s reports of Vietnamese funeral jewelry being sold at a gallery in Australia with human remains still attached.

We are confident that more publicity and reports like these the idea that “this is a person…not a thing” will sink in. Disrespect for the law and human dignity will be no longer be tolerated. As one commentator to the article “Widow sues over husband’s suicide in artifacts case” said:

“…robbing a grave in Utah is the same as robbing a tomb in Egypt.”—slippast

Will sentencing continue to disregard Federal Guidelines in Four Corners cases?

As sentencing awaits the three Utah residents recently found guilty of looting artifacts from federal and tribal lands, let’s take a moment to review the sentencing in the infamous 2009 case of the Redds. Receiving probation of three- and two- years and a fine of $2,000 and $300 respectively, Jeanne and Jericca Redd joined a number of other defendants who receive a mere slap on the wrist for their contribution to the destruction of cultural heritage and human remains.

In response, SAFE sent a letter (see full text below) to Judge Waddoups expressing our disappointment that the sentencing guidelines were not appropriately followed. Most importantly, that “the leniency shown to the Redds sends the message that such laws are unimportant or do not apply to the Four Corners region, and will encourage rather than deter looters.” We did not receive a response from the Judge.

The San Juan Record reported in July 2010, that “the trend is toward no jail time” with probation, “home confinement” and supervised release being the norm. A year later, has anything changed?

“Illegal or not, Americans still clutch after the Southwest’s past by combing its canyons for ruins.” Brandon Loomis writes in the excellent but sobering piece this January in The Salt Lake Tribune:

“Let this case serve notice to anyone who is considering breaking these laws and trampling our nation’s cultural heritage,” U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said after the Blanding raid, “that the [Bureau of Land Management], the Department of Justice and the federal government will track you down and bring you to justice.”

We hope that the sentencing judges will finally take heed.

Federal Agents Bust Ring of Antiquity Thieves Looting American Indian Sites for Priceless Treasures June 10, 2009

Photo: Federal Agents Bust Ring of Antiquity Thieves Looting American Indian Sites for Priceless Treasures June 10, 2009

The press conference was held at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. Behind Secretary Salazar are left to right, U.S. Attorney in Utah, Brett Tolman, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk and Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden. [Photo Credit: Tami A. Heilemann DOI]


October 20, 2009

Hon. Clark Waddoups
United States District Court, District of Utah
Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse
350 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Re: United States of America vs. Jeanne H. Redd and James D. Redd [2:09-cr-00044]; and United States of America vs. Jericca Redd [2:09-cr-00467]

Your Honor:

We hereby ask your permission to forward this letter to the news media and to post it on the SAFE Web site by Monday, October 26. Kindly provide us with your permission at cho@savingantiquities.org as soon as possible.

We are writing with regard to the sentences you rendered in the above-mentioned federal cases, which resulted from long-term investigations into multiple violations of the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), 16 U.S.C. § 470; the 1990 Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, 25 U.S.C. § 3001; and related legislation in the Four Corners region.

Professional archaeologists follow specific procedures in consultation with descendant communities and use scientific methods to retrieve maximum information to enhance our knowledge of the past. In contrast, the looting and trafficking of looted artifacts destroys archaeological evidence and imperils cultural heritage.

Moreover, in the ancient cultures of the Southwest, cultural objects were often buried with individuals as funerary items. Unsanctioned removal and acquisition of funerary items is nothing less than theft. It is disrespectful. For these reasons, the United States has enacted legislation to protect its cultural resources.

According to § 2B1.5 of the 2008 Federal Sentencing Guidelines (USSG § 2B1.5), sentencing levels increase accordingly when the theft, damage, or destruction involves:

• An offense exceeding $2,000 in value;
• Human remains, funerary objects, cultural patrimony, or designated archaeological material;
• A crime committed for pecuniary gain; and
• Defendants engaging in a pattern of misconduct involving cultural heritage resources.

The defendants in these two cases, Jeanne Redd and daughter Jericca Redd, were indicted on multiple federal charges involving artifacts with a combined value estimated at $6,000. Jeanne Redd had been charged by the State of Utah for similar activities in 1996. More than 800 artifacts, and some human remains, were seized from their home.

The potential penalties for these crimes would include fines of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison, according to the federal guidelines. The prosecution requested a sentence on the low end of the sentencing spectrum: 18–24 months imprisonment for Jeanne and Jericca Redd and a fine equal to the commercial value of all the artifacts, the archaeological costs for retrieving scientific information prior to the offense, and the cost for the restoration and repair of damages caused to cultural resources. Yet the court handed down an even more lenient sentence. Although the Redds entered a plea of guilty, they received no prison time and fines totaling $2,300. This is a slap on the wrist, considering the irreparable damage to heritage and history their crimes have caused.

We are disappointed that you did not follow the sentencing guidelines. The outcome shows disrespect for the federal agents and informants who put themselves at risk to make the case, and to the public, which paid for the prosecution. Most disturbingly, the leniency shown to the Redds sends the message that such laws are unimportant or do not apply to the Four Corners region, and will encourage rather than deter looters.

In addition, we believe that the dollar amount involved in an act of plunder should not be the sole, or even the primary, determinant of the seriousness of that act. In future sentencing, we urge you to also consider the cultural loss that the laws were designed to prevent, and recognize the importance of cultural heritage as something that goes beyond money.

We believe that the intentional violation of federal laws cannot be justified for certain communities or individuals. Even those who disagree with a particular aspect of the law must uphold it. If they do not, they should be held accountable for their actions. We respectfully request that the destructive activity of looting, trafficking, and collecting of cultural heritage property be addressed more appropriately and respectfully in future court decisions, particularly in cases resulting from this investigation.


Cindy Ho
President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities For Everyone

SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide. Our mission is to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities. We promote respect for the laws and treaties that enable nations to protect their cultural property and preserve humanity’s most precious non-renewable resource: the intact evidence of our undiscovered past. Learn more at www.savingantiquities.org.