Colorado couple pleads guilty in artifacts case

Published: Wednesday, March 9 2011 5:26 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A Colorado couple implicated in a massive southern Utah artifacts sting pleaded guilty Wednesday.

Carl Lavern Crites and Marie Virginia Crites, both of Durango, Colo., entered guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. Lavern Crites pleaded guilty to theft of government property, trafficking in stolen artifacts and depredation of government property. Additional charges of one count each of stealing an archeological artifact and transporting an archeological artifact were dismissed in exchange for the man's plea.

Marie Crites pleaded guilty to a single count of trafficking in stolen artifacts.

She faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison. If sentenced to the maximum amount of prison time allowed under each charge he pleaded to, Lavern Crites could face up to 22 years in prison.

Lavern Crites admitted to buying a pair of basket-maker sandals from an undercover federal informant. He also admitted to accompanying others, including a confidential government informant, to public land in San Juan County, where they used a shovel to unearth human remains, pottery shards and a knife without a federal permit in September 2008.

Marie Crites took responsibility for her part in purchasing the basket-maker sandals, though her attorney, Richard Mauro, said she was more of an artist than an artifacts dealer. Lavern Crites worked as an artifacts dealer. As many as five truckloads of artifacts were taken from the couple's home after they were indicted, but Lavern Crites' attorney, Wally Bugden, said many of those were acquired legally.

Bugden declined to talk about the recommended sentencing agreement he reached with prosecutors, but said that the government will not ask that the Crites forfeit their Colorado home.

The couple were just two of 25 people indicted last year as part of a federal crackdown on those who deal in Native American artifacts. The operation involved individuals in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. About half of them have reached plea agreements with federal prosecutors, while the other cases remain unresolved.

An undercover informant, Ted Gardiner, worked with the FBI and Bureau of Land Management in their 2½ year investigation in the Four Corners area. He made audio and video recordings of illegal transactions and bought approximately 256 archaeological artifacts totaling $335,685. Gardiner committed suicide in March 2010.

The Criteses were named alongside Richard Raymond Bourret, 61, who also pleaded guilty to taking part in the September 2008 archeological excavation that Lavern Crites took part in, and was sentenced to three years of probation in February. A fourth defendant, Steven Shrader, shot himself in New Mexico just weeks after he was indicted.

The couple will be sentenced Aug. 11.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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