The Associated Press follows up on the front-page news of last year’s arrest of dozens of Indian artifact hunters in the American Southwest. The arrests had brutal repercussions, including two suicides, for the arrested and their community. The arrests had been the culmination of a multi-year operation against a group of lifelong treasure hunters who had already been amply cautioned against continuing their traditional habit of collecting Indian artifacts:
[C]ourt documents describe a 2 1/2-year sting in which undercover informant Ted Gardiner, wearing wires and taking photographs, ingratiated himself into the network, spending more than $335,000 on Anasazi pottery, ceremonial masks, a buffalo headdress, jewelry and sandals associated with ancient burials.
With the FBI watching every move, Gardiner (identified only as “the source” in documents, though his identity is well known in town) infiltrated a secretive world of diggers and dealers who looted by moonlight or in camouflage, flew in small planes searching for ruins, and thought nothing of kicking out skeletons and skulls.
Gardiner, a well-connected Utah dealer who was paid $224,000 for his undercover work, visited the homes of suspects with wads of cash as well as wires. He paid David Lacy more than $11,000 for a digging stick, a turkey feather blanket, sandals dug from burial sites and a menstrual loincloth, among other items.
The consequences of the raids were shocking and irreparable:
[T]his summer when 150 federal agents swooped into the region, arresting 26 people at gunpoint and charging them with looting Indian graves and stealing priceless archaeological treasures from public and tribal lands.
Seventeen of those arrested, most of them handcuffed and shackled, were from Blanding, including some of the town’s most prominent citizens: Harold Lyman, 78, grandson of the pioneering Mormon family that founded the town. David Lacy, 55, high school math teacher and brother of the county sheriff.
And 60-year-old Jim Redd, along with his wife and adult daughter.
The next day, the doctor drove to a pond on his property and killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning. Another defendant, from Santa Fe, N.M., shot himself a week later.
The suicides horrified this town of about 4,000 with many bitterly blaming the government. More than a thousand people attended Redd’s funeral, even as the mayor denounced the FBI and Bureau of Land Management agents as “storm troopers” and the sheriff called for a formal investigation.
For many, the recriminations and grief masked more complicated questions — questions that have dogged the town for decades.