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Utah man says in court he sold stolen artifacts

By Paul Foy
Salt Lake City, Utah (AP) October 2010

A Utah man acknowledged last week that he took ancient bone and shell necklaces from federal land in southeastern Utah and sold them to a government informant.

Brandon Laws, 40, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to a misdemeanor charge of trafficking in stolen artifacts.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped two felony charges that could have meant years of prison for the construction worker.

Laws told U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart he took the American Indian artifacts in March 2008 from the Figure 8 ruin in San Juan County.

The plea deal brings to nearly half the number of cases resolved from a two-year sting operation in the Four Corners region, prosecutors said. The sweep rounded up 26 people in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Two of them committed suicide after their arraignments.

Laws was expected to be released from federal custody last week until his sentencing on Dec. 20.

Prosecutor Rich McKelvie said the government is recommending no additional jail time.

Laws has served more than five months on a probation violation after his arrest in April in Colorado on suspicion of methamphetamine possession.

He had argued the items came from private land and the transaction was legal. As part of the plea deal, Laws agreed to surrender other artifacts, regardless of their origin, and stay off federal or tribal land through a period of supervised release that has yet to be determined.

Laws had no comment after his court appearance. His father and mother described him as a carpenter and bricklayer. He told the judge he had a high school education.

Laws was liable for a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $100,000 fine, Stewart said. The judge said he would wait for a probation report before deciding on a sentence.




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