A federal judge in Utah will not send a mother and daughter to prison for digging up and trafficking in ancient American Indian artifacts from federal and Indian land.
Jeanne Redd, 59, and Jericca Redd, 37, instead received probation in the first guilty pleas resulting from a two-year federal sting targeting an artifacts black market in the Four Corners states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Twenty-six people were initially charged in the case; two committed suicide, including family patriarch James Redd, a prominent doctor in Blanding, Utah, a rural town in the heart of some of the nation's richest archaeological lands.
The Justice Department touted its sting and prosecution as the government's most serious attempt yet to stop illegal digging and trading. But probation in the first two cases to get to court has some wondering about the seriousness of the sentencing.
"The sentence is disappointing" in the case of Jeanne Redd, who was prosecuted for artifacts theft in the past, says Mark Michel of the Archaeological Conservancy. "And I'm afraid it sends a message that this is not serious criminal activity."
Jeanne Redd pleaded guilty in July to seven felony counts of theft and trafficking. Jericca Redd's guilty plea involved three counts of theft for digging up centuries-old pottery on the Navajo reservation.
American Indian tribes consider sacred some of the artifacts dug up by "pothunters" and sold to dealers and collectors. Human remains have also been part of the illegal artifacts trade.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for up to six months in prison for Jericca Redd, but a plea arrangement had prosecutors recommending the low end of that range of punishment. Jeanne Redd faced a prison term of 18-24 months, but U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups bypassed federal guidelines and the recommendation of prosecutors by choosing probation.
In court, Waddoups noted that Blanding "is a community where this conduct is culturally accepted, if not tolerated. That doesn't justify it, but it helps explain what went on."
"That's something that was within the judge's purview, and I'm not going to second-guess that," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard McKelvie, who also argues that the sentence should not be considered light. "I would be surprised if anyone observing this would pick up their shovels and head out into the desert tomorrow and think that it was OK to go rob graves."
McKelvie cited lifelong felony records now for the Redds and restrictions imposed by the judge, including a ban on firearms and artifacts possession, entering federal and Indian lands, and associating with anyone in the artifacts trade. Waddoups also imposed relatively light fines: $2,000 for Jeanne Redd and $300 for Jericca Redd.
The Redds also surrendered their extensive private collection of 812 artifacts. They and their attorneys did not respond to reporters' questions as they left the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.
"I can't imagine anybody willfully subjecting themselves to anything the Redds have gone through," McKelvie added. "You can't ignore the consequences that these people have suffered as a result of the investigation and prosecution of this case."
That's a reference to the death of husband and father James Redd, who killed himself the day after he was charged in the same case.
Twenty-two others have entered pleas of not guilty and face federal trials.
Michel remains concerned that the sentences for the Redds diminish the deterrent effects of the artifacts prosecution.
"A lot of the criminals involved will take this the wrong way," Michel asserts. "It's a message that they can break the law and not be seriously punished."