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Defendants in stolen artifacts case voluntarily surrender items


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BLANDING, Utah -- Federal agents returned to southeastern Utah Wednesday to collect several items in connection with an infamous stolen artifacts case.

As part of an agreement with the owners of a Blanding rock shop -- Dale and Raymond Lyman -- federal officials arrived early in the morning to gather some artifacts the brothers have in their possession. They also took some dinosaur bones, rocks and stones.

The owners of the shop knew federal agents would be there Wednesday, and they agreed to let those agents take whatever they needed for the case.

"It did not come to a surprise to them at all, and we do want to stress that," said Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

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Acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen says this wasn't a search for evidence, but rather an operation to gain custody of stolen goods.

"The idea, of course, is to secure these artifacts and ultimately to repatriate them either to the tribal owners or to place them in museums or other public places where people can view them and enjoy them," she said.

Most Blanding residents didn't enjoy seeing federal officers, archeologists and curators come into their town Wednesday. They say they're tired of seeing federal agents and they just want this case finished.

KSL 5 News spoke to the rock shop owners' sister, who said just seeing more agents with guns surrounding her brothers' store brought back memories that still haunt the town.

"Everyone is fearful. It's taken the spirit out of our town," Marcia Shores said. "If I have to talk too much about it, I'm going to cry. It does hurt, a lot."

The entire artifacts case has been controversial, resulting in dozens of arrests and three suicides, including the government's undercover informant.

Those who live in Blanding wonder if the human cost of this case has been worth it, but federal agents say taking certain items from public lands and selling them is illegal, no matter how tough the case has been.

"We're just going to have to let it play out," Shores said. "Hopefully it'll all be over and they'll leave us alone."

When federal officials were in town Wednesday, some residents questioned why they were carrying weapons.

"The issue should be -- if this is all signed, and everybody agreed to it -- why do we need armed folks?" asked Blanding resident Dan Shores.

"They're wearing their standard duty uniform, and as law enforcement officers, that duty uniform does in fact come with a weapon," Crandall explained. "There was no extra weaponry."

The U.S. attorney couldn't promise that this was the last operation in Southern Utah. "We still have remaining defendants, and whether there's a need to go forward with a similar type of operation I can't predict at this point," Christensen said.

Agents say they are visiting a couple of more stores and storage sheds in Blanding, gathering more artifacts.

Three of the four defendants who turned over the materials Wednesday are now going to plead guilty at the end of this month: Dale Lyman, Nick Laws and Aubry Patterson.

The U.S. attorney started out with 26 cases. That list has now shrunk to 17. The three who are pleading guilty will do so on April 23.

Four others have also pleaded out, and two defendants are dead -- along with the prosecution's key witness known as "The Source."

Investigators say they want to stress that collecting and selling ancient Native American artifacts is illegal, even if it's been a family tradition for decades.

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Story compiled with contributions from Alex Cabrero and Nicole Gonzales.

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