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Vandalizing cultural sites on public lands may land you in court

Published Feb. 9, 2012

Omaha, Neb. – Archaeological resources on public lands are an irreplaceable part of our nation’s heritage and, increasingly, law enforcement and courts are stepping up their response to those who abuse items of cultural value.

For example last fall, the U.S. District Court of South Dakota assessed a heavy fine in a case involving a misdemeanor violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). The individual who w as prosecuted was ordered to pay a $617.74 fine; $4,382.26 in restitution; a $25 special assessment and to forfeit 710 archaeological resources.

Crimes like the case in South Dakota may be spurred on by the commercial attractiveness of these cultural items. Federal laws such as ARPA prohibit the damage or removal of any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest. The purpose of ARPA is to protect archaeological resources and sites located on Federal and Tribal lands. It is illegal to sell or knowingly purchase these items. Penalties for the destruction of these resources include: fines, forfeiture of artifacts and equipment used in the commission of the crime, imprisonment and monetary restitution for damages to sites.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District investigations usually begin with a call to the district’s cultural resource hotline (1-866-No-SWIPE (1-866-667-9473)). C allers can anonymously report illegal activity, including vandalism, looting, digging or sale of artifacts that may have been obtained illegally from federal or Indian lands.

The Omaha District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have entered into a partnership designed to enhance the investigation and prosecution of these cases. Personnel from both agencies work closely with Tribal, State and local law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal charges on incidents that take place on public lands administered by the Corps. As a direct result of this partnership, recent investigations in North and South Dakota have resulted in four felony convictions and seven misdemeanor convictions under ARPA, with sentences resulting in fines exceeding $33,000, two terms in Federal prison – one for 8 months and another for 10 months, over 80 months of probation and one 6 month term of home confinement.

The public is reminded that archaeological, cultural, historic, and burial sites along the Missouri River are important resources to all Americans, both now and in the future. The Omaha District is dedicated to protecting and preserving these resources and cooperatively works with Federal, Tribal, State and local law enforcement authorities to that end.

The Corps asks the public to help preserve these resources by leaving these sites undisturbed and contacting the Corps’ toll free number 1-866-No-SWIPE (1-866-667-9473) to report people illegally collecting artifacts. Investigations begin as soon as an incident is identified.

Margaret Oldham

Release no. 20120209-001