Relic looters get prison
LAS VEGAS – A Carson City woman’s former husband, who admitted his role in a theft ring that netted thousands of pilfered relics from throughout the West has received one of the longest prison sentences ever in a case involving stolen artifacts, authorities said Tuesday.
Bobbie Wilkie, 45, of Oklahoma City, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to 37 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $102,000 in restitution, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said.
“A lot of people are not aware of the consequences of these violations,” the federal prosecutor for Nevada said after a Tuesday news conference announcing the resolution of the two-year case. “When you’re taking someone’s cultural heritage … it’s a serious offense.”
Wilkie received the longest sentence ever for a first-time artifacts theft offender, and one of the stiffest on record. A Utah man received a five-year sentence on similar charges in 1997.
Wilkie’s former wife, Deanne Wilkie, 44, admitted to unlawful receipt of archaeological resources removed from public lands and aiding and abetting in federal court. She is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 23, 2004.
Bogden and other federal officials called the most recent case one of the largest instances of archaeological theft ever investigated. The five-person group stole more than 11,000 artifacts and damaged 13 archaeological sites in Nevada and California during a four-year period, authorities said.
“This case was about theft and selfishness,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Stanish said. “These people were looting public lands to put these items on display in their homes.”
Authorities estimated the archaeological value of the artifacts, along with restoration and repair, to be about $518,000.
“There’s no dollar value that you can put on tribal heritage,” said Roger Kelly, a National Park Service archaeologist based in Oakland, Calif. He estimated some of the artifacts were 4,000 years old.
Items taken from federal land likely will remain the property of the federal government and could be housed at visitors centers across the West, authorities said. Those taken from tribal land will be returned to the respective tribes.
Tribal leaders attending Tuesday’s news conference said the looters took a piece of their heritage.
“Archaeological sites are there for a reason. It tells us about our past, our existence,” said Gloria Hernandez, chairwoman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe.
As part of his plea agreement, Wilkie admitted he knew the artifacts were at least 100 years old and that he did not have a permit to excavate and remove them. Pilfered sites included the White Cliff Petroglyph Site and Kane Springs Wash, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
“These lands were set aside by citizens like you and me to be protected for future generations,” said J.T. Reynolds, superintendent of Death Valley National Park, one of the looted sites. “It’s like desecrating a church or a cemetery.”
Authorities said the group researched the locations of American Indian artifacts in Nevada and California. Some of the artifacts taken were ancient corncobs, fiber sandals, pottery fragments, baskets and pendants.
Nevada residents indicted in the case were Deanne Wilkie, 44, of Carson City; Frank Embrey, 54, of Henderson; David Peeler, 53, of Las Vegas; and Kevin Peterson, 43, of Overton.
All four have pleaded guilty. Embrey was sentenced in August to 18 months in prison and was ordered to pay $86,000 in restitution. Peeler is scheduled to be sentenced Friday. Deanne Wilkie, the former wife of Bobbie Wilkie, will be sentenced Jan. 23, and Peterson will be sentenced Jan. 16.