RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington. Two people have pleaded guilty after an investigation into the theft and trafficking of Native American artifacts. Confessions and convictions are rare in artifacts cases, so these guilty pleas are considered a major breakthrough, as NPR's Howard Berkes reports.
HOWARD BERKES: The confessions are part of plea agreements that recommend minimal jail time for Jeanne and Jerrica Redd, a mother and daughter from Blanding, Utah, where family patriarch James Redd was a prominent doctor.
He was also arrested in the June 10th artifacts raid and committed suicide a day later. His widow and daughter now admit they collected and sold ancient Native American artifacts dug up on federal and Indian land.
Carlie Christensen is prosecuting the case.
Ms. CARLIE CHRISTENSEN (Attorney): We hope this will discourage people from going out onto those lands and stealing, removing or destroying these really unique and rare artifacts.
BERKES: Past prosecutions provided little deterrence because they rarely resulted in convictions. This time, federal agents engineered a two-year sting targeting looters, collectors and dealers. That's a broader scope than earlier crackdowns, and that pleases Mark Michel of the Archaeological Conservancy.
Mr. MARK MICHEL (Archaeological Conservancy): The only way to bring this under control is to put a dent in the market. As long as the end user feels like he can buy things that have been illegally stolen and get away with it, there's always going to be someone out there to steal it.
BERKES: The confessions of Jeanne and Jerrica Redd show artifacts digging is more than a local family hobby spanning generations. That's according to David Roberts, author of "In Search of the Old Ones," a book about the region's ruins and artifacts.
Mr. DAVID ROBERTS (Author): This is not some sort of harmless Sunday picnic arrowhead hunting. It's a full-scale black market business. It's really organized crime. This goes far beyond being a hobby.
BERKES: It's especially offensive on the Navaho reservation, where disturbing the graves and artifacts of the ancient ones is taboo. There's outrage there, says Kenneth Maryboy, a Navajo and county commissioner who considered the Redds good friends.
Mr. KENNETH MARYBOY (San Juan County Commissioner): To find out that this has been going on for quite some time, that's kind of disturbing. You know, they are good people, and it's kind of hard to imagine that they would do such things.
BERKES: Neither the Redds nor their attorneys will speak to reporters before sentencing in September. Yesterday, federal agents and archaeologists cleared out the Redd home in Blanding, Utah of all remaining artifacts.
Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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