Another Utah man sentenced in 4 Corners artifacts case

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

A Utah man who once bragged about taking American Indian artifacts from federal lands avoided jail time Aug. 5 after a federal judge said he decided to show leniency after reading letters from the man’s two daughters.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said he planned to give Aubry Patterson, 57, prison time but changed his mind after reading the letters, which said Patterson was an “amazing father” who had a hard life but always “provided for us and put food on the table.” Patterson’s teary daughters accompanied him to court.

Benson instead gave Patterson three years of probation, waiving guidelines that called for more than a year in prison.

Patterson apologized for digging up valuable relics on federal lands surrounding his property outside Monticello in southeast Utah, and he promised to never do it again.

“I would just like to say I’m sorry for the crime I committed and would not do it again,” Patterson said in federal court in Salt Lake City. “I apologize to the federal government and American Indian tribes.”

Patterson became the eighth defendant to receive leniency and avoid prison time after a sting operation rounded up 26 defendants last summer in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

Two of the defendants – one a Blanding, Utah, doctor and the other a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman – committed suicide in anguish over their arrests by federal agents. That leaves charges pending against 16 more defendants and an investigation that remains open in Arizona and New Mexico.

Prosecutor Rich McKelvie said the prosecution has all but shut down the black market trade, and the judge agreed that the largest-ever such federal investigation has sent a message that artifact looting is no longer acceptable.

Benson said he wouldn’t fine Patterson, but ordered him to stay off federal lands for three years and perform 50 hours of community service.

“I think the word is getting out whether I put you in prison or not,” the judge said. “Don’t do anything stupid on probation.”

Patterson surrendered hundreds of artifacts after pleading guilty in April to two felony theft charges, McKelvie said. The charges involved the sale of two exquisite bowls for $1,300 to a former antiquities dealer-turned government informant.

Prosecutors dropped six other counts involving the sale of additional artifacts.

In secret recordings, Patterson said he knew when a ranger took his days off, but worried more about running across tourists who could give him away. He dug fresh holes on his property in case “someone comes asking” about the origin of his artifacts.

He said he dug up burials – but not since he lost a son – and avoided caves where he could be trapped by law enforcement officers. He said he would rather die than get caught.

He circled on maps for the government agent where he had taken artifacts from Bureau of Land Management tracts –”You aren’t going to show BLM?” – then signed certificates claiming the objects came from his own land.