FBI returns artifacts to Southern California desert tribe

Palm Springs, California (AP) 6-08

The FBI returned stolen pottery, hand-woven baskets and other artifacts to an American Indian tribe during June, three and a half years after they were stolen from a museum in the Southern California desert.

The 17 pieces were taken in early 2005 from the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Cultural Museum in Indio, Calif., said retired FBI Special Agent Joseph Stuart, who investigated the theft.

Steven Farmer of Indio pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property in connection with the thefts and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison, Stuart said.

Most of the artifacts were recovered a few months after the theft, but they were considered evidence in Farmer’s trial and remained locked away until he was convicted, Stuart said.

Farmer sold the items for about $4,000, FBI officials said. The artifacts, some more than 100 years old, were valued at $140,000 to $160,000.

Jane Andrade got back several pieces of pottery that belonged to her great-grandmother. She had lent them to the museum to educate others about Native American culture.

“It’s been in my family forever,” Andrade said at a Palm Springs press conference. “I’m just glad they’re back.”

Three pieces that were on loan to the museum when they were stolen are still missing and are the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, said Stuart.

“Everybody who comes through a museum door is not an art lover,” Stuart said. “There’s a tremendous black market in Indian artifacts.