Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and other officials announced charges this afternoon in the country’s largest ever investigation into the theft of archaeological and cultural artifacts.
Two dozen individuals are accused of looting Native American burial sites and other public lands near Four Corners, the area where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet. Arrest warrants were issued for 23 of the defendants. The case involves 256 separate artifacts worth nearly $336,000.
Today’s indictments follow an undercover investigation by the Justice Department, the Interior Department, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement that spanned the past two years.
During a press conference in Salt Lake City this afternoon, Ogden said that committing energy and resources to achieving justice in Indian Country is of “paramount importance” to the Justice Department, and that officials from the highest levels of the department will be reaching out to Indian leaders. “I’m deeply committed to working collaboratively with tribal governments,” Ogden said.
Salazar, who said he was at the press conference on behalf of President Barack Obama, said today’s announcement should be a reminder to looters that, while they may profit in the short term, “the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice and law enforcement around this country will track you down and bring you to justice.”
The defendants are charged with violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. They were scheduled to appear today before Judge Samuel Alba in the U.S. District Court for Utah.