Plea bargain in case of removal of Native American artifacts

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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A doctor pleaded guilty to two felonies involving removal of ancient Native American artifacts from public lands in California and Nevada.

Anesthesiologist Jonathan Bourne, 59, of Mammoth Lakes entered his plea Monday in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

Bourne agreed to pay $249,372 to cover the costs of curating and storing about 20,000 relics that federal agents found in his home, said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.

Federal authorities opened a yearlong investigation after a hiking club website published photos of Bourne digging a wooden bow out of a melting glacier in the Sierra Nevada, the Los Angeles Times reported ( ) Tuesday.

Last year, a grand jury indicted Bourne on eight counts of unlawful transportation of archaeological resources removed from public lands; six counts of unauthorized excavation, removal, damage or defacement of archaeological resources removed from public lands; six counts of injury or depredation to government property; and one count of possession of stolen government property.

Those charges could have been punishable by up to 50 years in prison, with forfeiture of all vehicles and equipment that was used.

But under a plea agreement Bourne admitted to unlawfully removing glass trade beads from a site in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada in 2010 and a year later altering a site in Death Valley National Park by removing a tool made from a bighorn sheep horn and three etched stone tablets. The latter items are considered sacred to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.

Bourne's sentence will be imposed Nov. 7.

The maximum statutory penalty would be two years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each of the two felony counts, but U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said the government agreed not seek any time in custody.

The plea deal calls for Bourne to not be allowed on public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agencies that investigated him. The term of the ban will be part of the sentence.

The ban excludes a one-mile radius of Bourne's home so he can commute to work and walk his dog.

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