LAYTON, Utah (AP) – Utah’s U.S. senators say they want Congress to investigate the actions of federal agents who arrested two dozen people for the theft of ancient artifacts stolen from public and tribal lands in the Four Corners area.
Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both Republicans, told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City that the raid was overkill. The two made the comments during interviews at the state’s GOP convention June 13.
One of the men indicted in the raid, James Redd, 60, was found dead on June 11 in an apparent suicide.
Redd was a physician and charged with one felony count of theft of Indian tribal property. His wife, 59-year-old Jeanne Redd, was also charged.
Of those indicted, 19 are from southern Utah, four are from Colorado, and one is from New Mexico. They range in age from 27 to 78.
BLM and FBI agents assigned to the investigation used a confidential source who came forward in 2006 and paid more than $335,000 during the following two years for 256 stolen artifacts, according to court documents.
Federal indictments accuse the people of stealing, receiving or trying to sell American Indian artifacts including bowls, stone pipes, sandals, arrowheads, jars, pendants and necklaces.
Some 300 federal agents – about half from the Bureau of Land Management – were involved in the arrests.
“I’m very concerned about it,” Hatch said. “It seems like overkill to me to do that with these people, one a doctor, a pillar of his community. I’d call for a (U.S. Senate) investigation. But I don’t chair (and control) the Judiciary Committee.”
Bennett and Hatch’s comments resonated with delegates from southern Utah at the GOP convention.
“It was Gestapo tactics,” said Larry Sorrell, a rancher from San Juan County.
“(Redd) was our family doctor,” he said. “We’ve known him a long time. (Federal officials) overstepped their authority big time.”
Hatch said he doubts that Democrats will investigate the raid, “but we should.”
Bennett said when the Interior Department’s budget comes before his appropriations committee, he will be asked questions about how the raid was conducted.
Bennett said it was inappropriate to go into a person’s home for 10 hours and search for “just one” relic, and “put them in handcuffs, wearing flak vests and with automatic weapons drawn.”
Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, an attorney for the Onondaga Nation who specializes in tracking down sacred objects and cultural resources and repatriating them to their rightful tribal owners, said she was grateful for the time and effort the FBI and other law enforcement agencies spent in investigating the crimes and offended by the senators’ proposals.
“More often than not, cultural resources, sacred items and human remains of indigenous peoples are looted and sold and are not investigated and protected,” O’Loughlin said. She is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
“The investigation uncovered evidence of disturbance of human remains and the sale of funerary objects. I am convinced that these senators’ attitudes would be different if these criminals were looting their relatives’ graves, or their religious institutions’ sacred items. Shame on these senators of the states of Utah and Colorado for threatening funding for investigations of the theft of Native American human remains and cultural resources.”
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