Jeanne and Jericca Redd of Blanding, Utah, the wife and daughter respectively of James Redd, the physician who committed suicide shortly after being indicted on pothunting charges in June, appeared in federal court in Salt Lake City today for sentencing in their own cases. They pleaded guilty in July, presumably as part of some sort of plea bargain with the authorities, who said at the time that they would not seek the maximum penalty available under the applicable laws.
To say the Redds didn’t receive the maximum penalty today would be quite the understatement. While each of the seven counts to which Jeanne Redd pleaded guilty could potentially have resulted in a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison, she ended up with 36 months of probation and a $2000 fine. Her daughter got a $300 fine and 24 months of probation for the three counts to which she pleaded guilty. Talk about a slap on the wrist.
Given the scale of the investigation behind these charges, it seems pretty obvious that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. While as far as I know no one has actually said that the Redds pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain, that seems like the most logical explanation for the authorities’ leniency here, especially given Jeanne Redd’s history of antiquities law violations. I can think of at least two reasons for this strategy:
- To gather evidence for the prosecutions of other suspects. The Redds were clearly very closely tied to a lot of other people involved in these illegal artifact acquisition and trade networks, and they probably have huge amounts of information that would be very useful in the trials of more recalcitrant suspects. The large number of charges against Jeanne Redd in particular, with the huge potential penalties connected to each, would have given prosecutors a lot of leverage over her to get her to cooperate.
- To inspire other suspects to plead guilty in hopes of getting similarly lenient treatment. The really quite remarkably light sentences imply that something like this is probably going on. If even Jeanne Redd, with all the charges against her, can get off with just 36 months probation and a $2000 fine, other suspects with fewer charges in particular may not see much downside to cooperating, compared to the high and increasing risk of conviction at trial and really severe penalties if they remain uncooperative while others are turning on them.
- Perhaps, and this is a bit more speculative, to gather evidence for indictments against others who have not yet been charged. The evidence against the Blanding folks, and the others charged so far, was mostly very straightforward and based on tape-recorded conversations by an undercover operative. The investigation seems to be moving outward, though, toward dealers and, possibly, collectors in other places whose roles in the illicit artifact trade are rather different and harder to tie directly to the initial looting. Getting the looters at the source end to turn on the customers at the recipient end is a smart way to get around the murky and complicated nature of the networks, which (at least partly deliberately) obscures the connections. I emphasize that I don’t have any specific evidence that this is what is going on, but it seems a reasonable guess.
In any case, the slap on the wrist to the Redds is a very interesting development. While punishments for violations of antiquities laws are often very lenient, which is a big problem for enforcing the laws in general, the high-profile nature of these cases suggests that something more complex is going on in this instance.
In related news, it seems that Bob Knowlton, an antiquities dealer in Grand Junction, Colorado who was indicted in August on charges of dealing in illegal artifacts, appeared in federal court in Denver on Monday. He was appointed a public defender until he can hire a lawyer, and he will return on September 30 to enter his plea. Knowlton’s case is interesting because while the number of charges is small, the indictment includes detailed information on the origins of the artifacts he sold, given by Knowlton himself and recorded by the undercover operative, including descriptions of the people he bought them from. None of those descriptions seems to match anyone else indicted so far. It’ll be interesting to see how he pleads, especially given today’s events in Salt Lake. Stay tuned.