Another sentenced in Four Corners artifacts case
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Nicholas K. Laws has maintained he never collected ancient American Indian artifacts for sale, but when he was offered money by a federal informant the father of three desperately needed it.
“For my client, this was not a living,” Laws’ attorney, Randy S. Ludlow, said in federal court Monday. “He was never doing it to make a fast buck.”
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart sentenced Laws to two years of probation for the sale of a ceremonial twin effigy doll, waiving guidelines that called for six months to a year in prison.
Other judges have shown leniency, too, following a sting operation that rounded up 26 defendants last summer in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.
Laws, 31, is the seventh defendant to be sentenced. Others received probation, except for a widow who got six months of home confinement.
Federal prosecutors didn’t object to the leniency. In a plea deal, they dropped additional charges that Laws sold a pendant, a paint stick, stone knife, bowl, prayer stick and other artifacts to the informant.
Stewart made a personal request of Laws after sentencing. The judge asked him to stand up for the federal government in Blanding, where anti-government sentiments were fanned by the largest-ever federal investigation of the artifact trade.
Stewart said artifact looting has become a serious offense, even though it has been a long-standing pastime in the Southwest and “winked at by law enforcement.”
He suggested Laws got off easy and should defend his sentence as fair.
“When you return to Blanding, I expect you to acknowledge that you did wrong,” the judge said.
Minutes earlier Laws stood to acknowledge, “I’d like to apologize. I know what I did was wrong. I’d like to apologize to my family for dragging them through this.”
Laws appears to have been a minor player. Other defendants surrendered collections that filled houses and lined driveways with thousands of objects.
Two of the original 26 defendants – a prominent Blanding doctor and a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman – committed suicide shortly after their arrests.
Those suicides weighed heavily on the government operative, Ted Gardiner, who confided his anguish to friends before turning a gun on himself in March, according to police reports.
Gardiner made the case for federal authorities, secretly recording more than $335,000 in purchases over two years from people later accused of digging, collecting, selling or trafficking in artifacts taken from federal and tribal lands.
Federal authorities say at least one of the artifact cases is almost certain to go to trial.
David Lacy – a brother of San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy – is fighting felony charges that could disqualify him from his job as a high school math teacher in Blanding. His trial is set to start Aug. 16.
David Lacy, 55, was indicted on accusations that he sold a woman’s prehistoric loin cloth, a turkey feather blanket, a decorated digging stick, a set of knife points and other artifacts for more than $11,000. He has pleaded not guilty.
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