Mar 30, 2010

Two Guilty Pleas in Four-Corners Antiquities Investigation

On Monday two pleaded guilty to stealing government property and violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.  Both Brent Bullock and Tammy Shumway had been among those indicted during a federal investigation into looting Native American sites in the Four Corners region in the Southwest.  From the AP:


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. 

A couple points which might not be evident from some of the coverage of these plea deals.  First, sentencing will occur in July; and the AP piece notes the maximum sentence is 12 years in prison.   Neither of these defendants will likely receive anything close to the statutory maximum.  That is because when a defendant enters into a plea deal, they do so in most cases to achieve a recommendation from prosecutors on sentencing; which will often fall far below the maximum sentences.  This should not be construed as authorities in the United States not taking these crimes seriously—rather a reflection of the general criminal procedures when plea agreements are reached. 

Second, Tammy Shumway is the widow of Earl Shumway, a notorious antiquities looter.  Shumway became a national figure in the 1980's, who boasted that he began looting at three years old with his father.  He sold a large collection of over thirty prehistoric baskets and sold them for a great deal.  Though he was prosecuted for selling those baskets, he cooperated with authorities and only received probation.  He went right back to looting, using a helicopter and even lookouts to avoid authorities.  He boasted to the media that he could never be apprehended.  Though he was not caught in the act of looting, authorities did secure a conviction using DNA evidence found on Mountain Dew soda cans he left in the areas he looted.  In 1995 he received a 5-year prison sentence which sent a message that Federal agents and prosecutors took this kind of crime seriously. 

  1. Timothy Egan, In the Indian Southwest, Heritage Takes a Hit, N.Y. Times, November 2, 1995.
  2. Mike Stark, 2 Utahns plead guilty in sweeping artifacts case, AP, March 29, 2010.
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