Tom Sharpe Some dealers in Native American artifacts remain angry two years after federal agents began arresting people on charges of trafficking in illegal artifacts in the Four Corners area.
Steve Elmore blames the tactics of the FBI and other federal agents for causing three suicides.
Two of the defendants in the Four Corners case, James D. Redd, a 60-year-old physician in Blanding, Utah, and Steven L. Shrader, a 56-year-old salesman in Santa Fe, killed themselves shortly after they were arrested in 2009.
Elmore, who sells Indian art from his gallery on Paseo de Peralta, accuses law enforcement of being nonchalant about their raids.
"They actually took in 80 military-style people and handcuffed [Redd] and told him his life was over, that he was going to lose his practice, going to lose his entire collection," Elmore said. "They act as if no harm was done in these raids, and yet three people are dead.
"These people are just bugs. They're collateral damage. They don't even acknowledge that three people are dead and that there's a wave of destruction of families and lives and businesses."
Federal agents in 2009 also raided the homes and seized some items from four Santa Fe collectors — Christopher Selser, Thomas "Tommy" Cavaliere, Willy "Billy" Schenck and Forrest Fenn — although none of them was ever charged with a crime.
The third suicide was the government's main informant, Ted Gardiner, 52, who reportedly was paid $224,000 over two years plus $350,000 in buy money to help set up the cases.
Like many other dealers of Native American artifacts, Elmore blames Gardiner for fabricating the black market in artifacts.
"The only person who did anything illegal was Ted Gardiner, who bought these pieces," he said. "He made them illegal, and he did it because the government paid him all this money to do it. But there ... wasn't any circle of pirates."
Members of the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Associationsaid that during a Monday morning meeting of the group, Dace Hyatt — an expert witness for defense lawyers in the cases, all of which ended in plea bargains to probated sentences — estimated that the value of the artifacts involved in the Four Corners cases was inflated by more than 700 percent.
Gardiner said that was done to get the prices higher than $500, the threshold for a federal felony. "When they learned that Dace was going to testify," Elmore said, "they decided to settle these things out of court."
According to Elmore, Redd's crime involved a shell pendant less than 1 inch long that would sell for $100 or less, but Gardiner offered him $1,000 for the piece. According to Elmore, Redd admitted he "found it on the surface like an arrowhead," but on federal land.
At an evening panel discussion at St. John's United Methodist Church sponsored by the dealers group, board member Wilbur Norman of Santa Fe told FBI representatives there needs to be a new way of dealing with the human urge to collect artifacts.
"We all know that there's an insatiable desire for humans to own and know about their past," he said. "Just like people will also engage in sex not just for procreation [and] people will always want to get high, people will always want to own part of their past."
Contact Tom Sharpe at 096-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.