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Utahn accuses feds of misconduct in artifact case

By Paul Foy
Salt Lake City, Utah (AP) Feb. 2010

The brother of a Utah sheriff accused federal agents during late February of misconduct when they arrested him last June for allegedly trafficking in ancient American Indian artifacts.

David Lacy testified in federal court in Salt Lake City that heavily armed agents stormed his house and held him for hours while grilling him about his collection of artifacts – all without reading him his Miranda rights against self-incrimination.

Two agents earlier testified on Tuesday that they did everything properly.

Lacy is a brother of the sheriff in San Juan County in southeast Utah and one of 26 collectors and dealers in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico who were arrested after a two-year sting operation.

The Blanding, Utah, high school teacher maintained that his collection of Native American artifacts was legally obtained. His testimony Tuesday was the first time one of the defendants testified about the case.

“They were legal,” said Lacy, who was eager to show agents his artifacts and explain how he obtained them. “I had done nothing wrong.”

Removing artifacts from federal or tribal lands is a felony violation, although for more than a century it has been a pastime in the Four Corners region of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. A common defense is that artifacts came from private lands. Lacy wasn’t asked in court Tuesday to explain where his artifacts came from.

In 2007, federal authorities decided to crack down when a Utah antiquities dealer offered to work undercover for the government buying intricately painted bowls that can sell for thousands of dollars apiece, as well as and other artifacts.

Lacy, 55, was accused of selling a woman’s prehistoric loin cloth, a turkey feather blanket, a decorated digging stick, an Atlatl weight, a set of knife points and other artifacts for more than $11,000. He faces nine counts of trafficking or theft in violation of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. He has pleaded not guilty.

Lacy testified that he planned a day of golfing on June 10 when nearly a dozen agents showed up at his house outside Blanding, Utah, just after sunrise.

“They said, ‘Open up, police!’ Lacy recounted. “I thought it was my son, who is a deputy sheriff. I told him to knock it off.”

Lacy said he met several armed agents at the door, some carrying shotguns or rifles. He threw on a pair of shorts, T-shirt and flip-flop sandals as agents searched and occupied his house for more than four hours.

A son and a daughter testified Feb. 23 that agents kept them from visiting to check on their father’s welfare.

It wasn’t until the very end that two federal Bureau of Land Management agents testified that they informed Lacy he was under felony arrest. The agents insisted they advised Lacy of his Miranda rights at the outset, but Lacy disputes that. Lacy did sign a Miranda waiver at the end of his interview.

Under the circumstances, “We think there’s no question he was in custody,” said one of Lacy’s lawyers, Matthew Lewis. That means agents have a special duty to inform a defendant of his rights.

Lewis is asking U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart to suppress information Lacy supplied during his interview. Stewart isn’t expected to rule until May.

Lacy said his interview started out casually, then “they became more adversarial” with agents raising their voices and expressing frustration. He said he had agreed to sit for an interview and consented to the search of his house, an outbuilding, his vehicle and a leased storage shed in town.

Prosecutor Rich MeKelvie said Lacy acknowledged selling some artifacts, but after the hearing his lawyer insisted those artifacts had been legally obtained.

Two of the 26 defendants – one a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman, the other a prominent Blanding, Utah, physician, James Redd – committed suicide after their arrests.

Separately, Redd’s wife and daughter surrendered their own vast collections, pleaded guilty and were sentenced last summer to terms of probation. The rest of the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

 

 

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