Utahns accused of stealing artifacts plead guilty

By Chi-Chi Zhang
Salt Lake City, Utah (AP) May 2011

Three Utah residents pleaded guilty this month to federal charges of trafficking stolen artifacts from federal and tribal lands.

Blanding residents Reece Laws, Tad Kreth and Joseph Smith acknowledged taking American Indian artifacts from public lands and selling them to dealers working undercover for the Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies.

Sentencing is set for July in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Prosecutors agreed to drop charges against a fourth defendant, Meredith Smith, if she doesn’t commit any more crimes in the next six months.

The defendants are among 26 people indicted by federal prosecutors in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado in June 2009 following a two-year undercover investigation of artifacts looting and trafficking. Two of them committed suicide after their arraignments.

Joseph Smith and Kreth pleaded guilty to a felony count of trafficking in stolen artifacts. Laws pleaded to a misdemeanor theft count.

Federal prosecutor Rich McKelvie recommended probation for Kreth and Laws, granted they don’t enter public lands, buy or exchange artifacts or associate with anyone who does during their probation period.

“This is a good and fair resolution,” said Joseph Smith’s lawyer, Benjamin Hamilton. “We arrived at this after discussions and further investigations showed the value of the goods the government purchased was inflated.”

Monticello resident David A. King recently pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking in artifacts improperly taken from public lands in Utah and Colorado. The plea agreement said King helped arrange sales to an informant of a pendant, jar and stone point in 2008.