The Four Corners Sideshow

Posted on May 1, 2011


Federal prosecutors have entered into deals in three more of the Four Corners antiquities trafficking cases.  For Meredith Smith, they’ll drop the charges if she doesn’t get charged with any other crimes in the next six months.  Tad Kreth had his charges reduced from 17 counts to 1, and the prosecutors will recommend probation.  And Joseph Smith has had his charges reduced from 38 counts to 1, and he’ll have to forfeit the Native American artifacts he owns.

Every day preservationists advocate for tougher prosecution of “crimes against archaeology,” but if this is what tougher prosecution looks like, it just doesn’t seem worth it.  Three men are dead, and the government has spent upwards of half a million dollars.

It’s readily apparent that federal prosecutors overcharged the cases in an attempt to justify the immense resources that went into the investigation.  One has to wonder if that contributed to the suicide death of Dr. James Redd, who in his medical practice served less advantaged communities in Utah.

Some words of comfort from the US government:

The Justice Department has portrayed the arrests as evidence of the Obama administration’s commitment to justice for American Indians. Brett L. Tolman, the United States attorney for Utah, expressed sympathy for Dr. Redd and Mr. Shrader but said the arrests “went according to procedure.”

“These are sacred artifacts that we should all care about,” Mr. Tolman said. “Instead what we’re talking about are the frustrations of those that are accused of these crimes. I think that is a tragedy.”

And by “frustrations” do you mean suicides?  And by accused do you mean those who are innocent until proven guilty?  Is it really a “tragedy” that we should talk (much less care) about these things? With every breaking headline, the Four Corners situation is looking more like a sideshow than a legitimate effort to decrease illicit excavation and trafficking in ancient artifacts.

Illicit excavation is only one misuse of “sacred artifacts.” Another is to use them to justify a witchhunt that serves only government propaganda.