SALT LAKE CITY -- Three Southern Utah men who admitted selling ancient artifacts taken from public land are the latest to plead guilty after a lengthy federal crackdown on theft and trafficking of American Indian relics in the Four Corners area.
At a hearing in Moab on Friday, Nick Laws and Dale Lyman each pleaded guilty to one count of violating federal laws aimed at protecting artifacts on public and tribal lands. Aubry Patterson pleaded guilty to trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government property.
The Blanding men were among 26 people charged after a two-year federal sting operation.
The operation relied on Ted Gardiner, a former Utah antiquities dealer who worked undercover for the FBI, eventually spending more than $335,000 to buy artifacts from a host of diggers, sellers and collectors.
Many of the deals were secretly videotaped.
In conversations with Gardiner, Patterson admitted to digging up artifacts on federal land and bragged that rangers had tried to unsuccessfully catch him, according to court documents.
In a plea agreement Friday, Patterson -- initially charged with six felonies -- admitted he dug up an Abajo bowl worth more than $1,000 from U.S. Bureau of Land Management Land and sold it to the undercover source in 2007.
He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Lyman admitted in his plea deal that he sold a Clovis point from BLM land. Gardiner bought the item for $1,200, according to court documents. He also told the operative about trips he'd take to dig up artifacts on public land, including one where he hiked in 10 miles after spotting a set of ruins from an airplane.
Laws admitted to taking an item called a "twin effigy" from BLM land and selling it to the operative. It was worth more than $500, court papers said.
He and Lyman each face up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
All three will have to give up their artifact collections, according to the plea deal.
In March, two other defendants pleaded guilty to two felonies each. A mother and daughter pleaded guilty in the case last year.
Two defendants committed suicide in June after the charges were announced. The remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Gardiner died from a self-inflicted gunshot in March.