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Men who stole petroglyphs sentenced to prison

RENO, Nev. - Two men convicted of stealing large boulders containing
etchings of ancient American Indian rock art have been sentenced to serve
short prison terms.

U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben sentenced Carroll Mizell, 44, of Van
Nuys, Calif., to four months in prison with two months house arrest, while
Reno resident John Ligon, 40, was ordered to serve two months behind bars.
The men were convicted in June by a federal jury who found them guilty of
violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) for stealing
the protected petroglyphs.

The three boulders were removed in August 2003 from the base of Peavine
Mountain, located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest just outside
Reno. The petroglyphs, which Forest Service officials believe are at least
1,000 years old, depicted human figures, sheep, archers, wheels and
lizards. One month after being stolen, the rocks were recovered in Ligon's
front yard where they were being used for landscaping purposes.

Defense attorneys claimed at trial that Mizell and Ligon removed the rocks
to protect them from encroaching development and traffic in the area, and
argued that the pair would not have taken them if the Forest Service had
marked the site with signs. But the judge wasn't buying it.

"There is no question in my mind the defendants knew what they were doing
was wrong," McKibben said in issuing his ruling during the Sept. 8
sentencing.

The defense team asked the judge to let the men off on probation, prompting
this response from Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gifford. "Part of the signal
you can send is that you can't just go out in the middle of the night,
throw a chain around it, winch it out, drag it across boulders and stick it
in your front yard because you think it looks nice," Gifford said. McKibben
agreed.

Defense attorneys are considering an appeal.

It was the second case in Nevada in less than a year to result in a
conviction under ARPA and see the defendants sentenced to serve prison
time. In what authorities called the largest looting ring in U.S. history,
five people who stole thousands of ancient artifacts from federal lands in
Nevada and California were convicted late last year and began serving their
sentences in February.

The ring was responsible for damaging 13 archeological sites during a four
year looting spree during which they collected more than 11,000 American
Indian artifacts, including a human skull. A special task force spent
10,000 hours investigating the case which led to the convictions.

That sophisticated group of thieves used tools such as sifting screens,
flipping sticks, probes, trowels, buckets and shovels to excavate sites to
locate the artifacts.

Meanwhile, several other American Indian archeological sites in Nevada are
facing different challenges. Looters aside, sites are being threatened by
all-terrain vehicle use, a proposed heliport and housing tracts pushing
into once-remote areas.

In Lincoln County near the town of Alamo, about 80 miles north of Las
Vegas, is a rock art site named the Shooting Gallery. It's threat? It's not
being protected. Within a two-mile radius the Shooting Gallery contains 575
rock art panels and more than 5,000 images in all.

But when the Nevada congressional delegation introduced a bipartisan
sponsored bill called the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and
Development Act of 2004 to preserve swaths of Eastern Nevada, the
Pahranagat Range and the Shooting Gallery was left out.

The bill would create 14 new wilderness areas totaling nearly 770,000
acres, but also free up 87,005 acres of federal land for sale and release
another 246,000 acres from wilderness study protection for future
development while establishing a utility corridor for the Southern Nevada
Water Authority to build pipelines through Lincoln County to deliver
groundwater to the Las Vegas Valley.

The slight angered many conservation advocates who sent a three-page letter
to Nevada lawmakers saying its impact has the "potential for severe
environmental and socio-economic harm" including the possible loss of some
archeological resources.

"They left out some incredible areas including portions of the Pahranagat
Range, and especially the Shooting Gallery," said Shaaron Netherton,
executive director of the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, an organization
fighting to get the area more protection.

And closer to Las Vegas other problems exist. In February, Clark County
commissioners voted to consider a heliport site on Bureau of Land
Management land near the Sloan National Conservation Area. But controversy
arose when residents and members of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe expressed
concerns saying that flights directly over the federally protected canyon
would disturb solitude and ceremonies performed at the canyon, a historical
religious site for American Indians. The area is home to a number of rock
art sites. A plan to locate the heliport elsewhere is being considered.

Then, clear across town near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a
site once populated by bands of Southern Paiute is on the verge of being
developed. Evidence of the early civilization still exists. Etchings and
pictographs on rock walls, and doughnut-shaped cooking pits are still
visible, but under the surface, Hopi and Paiute tribal members say are the
remains of their ancestors, and fear the development may unearth the
remains.

Developers have said they have a sensitive plan in place to preserve the
area and not disturb it in any way. But some tribal members aren't so sure
and are preparing for a future fight.