Lawyers in artifact looting case told to prepare
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal magistrate warned a courtroom full of defense lawyers Tuesday to work more quickly to review evidence in a major case involving artifact looting and grave-robbing in the Four Corners area.
“You need to get with it,” Magistrate Samuel Alba admonished more than a dozen lawyers Tuesday. “Get the work done to review the evidence.”
The lawyers protested they haven’t had enough time to review stacks of video and audio recordings made by a government informant at the center of felony charges against 25 defendants – two of whom have committed suicide.
The status conference was immediately followed by a final arraignment of one of the original defendants.
David Waite, 61, of Albuquerque, pleaded not guilty to charges of trafficking, transporting stolen goods and theft. Charging papers say Waite sold the undercover operative a cache of 24 knife points taken from federal lands in Utah.
The transaction, worth thousands of dollars, was said to have occurred June 29, 2007.
Waite, who was summoned to court instead of being arrested with others in June, was released Tuesday on a set of conditions.
Defense lawyers told the magistrate they’ve only started to review the government’s evidence and want more, including a copy of the informant’s FBI service agreement. Prosecutors didn’t immediately commit to more disclosures.
The case involves hundreds of hours of secret recordings and untold pages of FBI documents, some of which have yet to be released, lawyers told The Associated Press after Tuesday’s conference.
“I have a 10-inch-by-10-inch box full of CDs and DVDs that will take months to review,” federal defender Lynn Donaldson said of one client. His Salt Lake City office represents a handful of the defendants.
Alba warned he wouldn’t tolerate any lawyers who “sit and wait and do nothing.” The magistrate said he was being pressured to speed things up by a handful of more senior judges who would eventually take the cases.
Alba wanted to set a series of motion deadlines and trial dates on Tuesday, but with defense lawyers unprepared for even that, he was forced to schedule another status conference for Nov. 23.
“That is the week of Thanksgiving, so you need to keep that in mind,” he said.
Alba told lawyers they couldn’t immediately demand a copy of the informant’s contract with the FBI for 21/2 years of undercover work. The lawyers want to scrutinize the pact to make a possible case that the informant violated its terms or showed misconduct or bias in his dealings. No such allegations have surfaced.
The investigation broke open in early June with early morning raids on a dozen rural Utah homes. Other defendants were arrested or surrendered in Colorado and New Mexico. Authorities have seized truckloads of artifacts and are aggressively pursuing leads.
In short order, two of the defendants – one a prominent doctor, the other an unemployed salesman – committed suicide. The Blanding, Utah, physician, Dr. James Redd, died by carbon monoxide poisoning inside his Jeep on his ranch. His wife and daughter quickly pleaded guilty to separate charges.
The Santa Fe, N.M., salesman, Steve Shrader, traveled to Illinois to pay his mother a visit and then shot himself in the chest behind an elementary school.
The rest of the defendants have pleaded not guilty.
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