Defense attorneys in the case against Blanding residents Joseph Smith, Meredith Smith, Tad Kreth and Reece Laws want to use Dace Hyatt, of Show Low, Ariz., as an expert witness to establish that the artifacts they are accused of dealing illegally were not of sufficient value to justify felony indictments.
Hyatt reviewed photos of about two dozen items that the defendants sold to government operative Ted Gardiner during a federal investigation of looting from tribal and federal lands. Hyatt valued each below the $500 threshold for a felony. This week he viewed the artifacts — among them a turquoise pendant and a copper bracelet — in person and adjusted some of his estimates, but still none to higher than $500.
Prosecutors in U.S. District Court on Friday questioned his credentials and biases. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard McKelvie pointed out that the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper last year quoted him calling the investigation “entrapment.” He also asked whether Hyatt had known before his appraisals that $500 was the cutoff for felonies under a federal archaeological protection act, and Hyatt said he had.
“In some of these instances the amounts that Mr. Gardiner paid were wildly higher,” McKelvie said, noting one transaction of $5,500 for an item that Hyatt reported being worth just $488.
Hyatt knew Gardiner, a Utah collector and dealer who committed suicide after the arrests, and had sold him about $23,000 worth of artifacts in 2007-2008, McKelvie said. Hyatt said those items were appropriately priced, some as high as $3,000.
Dealers around the Southwest have said since the 2009 arrests that Gardiner tempted people with unreal offers, but defense attorney Parker Douglas said the only issue before the court now is whether the allegations should carry felony counts.
Hyatt said his 21 years in business make him an expert in the market, a point the government challenged partly by noting he is not a trained archaeologist nor a member of a professional appraisers’ organization.
Federal Judge Ted Stewart said he would hear further arguments in the matter Feb. 28.