Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here today with Secretary Salazar, Assistant Secretary EchoHawk, U.S. Attorney Tolman and other dedicated public officials to announce the success of the largest undercover operation into the archeological looting of public and tribal lands in the Four Corners region.
Earlier today, about 150 agents from several state and federal law enforcement agencies arrested 23 suspects for their alleged involvement in a network to illegally purchase 256 artifacts valued at $335,685. The suspects are excavators, dealers, and collectors. They were arrested and indicted as part of a two-year-long investigation, codenamed “Cerebus Action,” into violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
This was a multi-agency effort coordinated between the Department of Justice and the Interior Department involving agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Land Management and state and local jurisdictions to ensure the arrest and seizure of all suspects and evidence. The work of the U.S. Attorney’s office here, under Brett Tolman, was also instrumental in securing the indictments unsealed today.
These archeological treasures are precious and protecting them preserves a rich history and heritage. That is why the Justice Department will use all of its tools to vigorously enforce the laws designed to safeguard the cultural heritage of Native Americans. To this end, we are currently conducting a collaborative training effort between the Departments of Justice and Interior for federal prosecutors and law enforcement personnel on laws addressing looting, vandalism, and illegal trafficking of cultural heritage. Training a new cadre of experts in this area will increase the Department’s capacity to investigate and prosecute these important cases.
While the Department of Justice works to prevent the damage done to historical artifacts in Indian Country, we are firmly committed to ending the violence inflicted on Indian people. Public safety in Indian country is among the most important law enforcement challenges facing the Justice Department.
Criminal justice in Indian Country has been a long-time focus for me. I first became involved in these issues in the mid-1990’s while at the Department as an Associate Deputy Attorney General and then as the Attorney General’s Counselor and Chief of Staff. At the time, President Clinton charged the Justice Department and the Department of the Interior with reviewing the state of justice on the reservations around the country.
It was an exhaustive initiative that I spearheaded for the Department, and I still recall how dire the situation was when we began our review. After intensive efforts, we made recommendations that led to major funding initiatives involving tribal police, jails and courts. Returning a decade later to the Department, I see that much remains to be done. As I know Secretary Salazar agrees, recommitting energy, resources and focus to criminal justice in Indian Country is of paramount importance.
To begin, the highest levels of the Department of Justice will soon reach out to Indian country leaders on a government-to-government basis to initiate an ongoing consultation on these issues. But this is only the beginning. I am deeply committed to working collaboratively with tribal governments to effect real advancements in Indian country public safety . And we will work closely with Secretary Salazar, Assistant Secretary EchoHawk, and the Department of the Interior on that crucial project.
There are many people responsible for the successful crackdown announced today. In particular, I would like to thank Secretary Salazar and Assistant Secretary EchoHawk for their unwavering commitment on these and other tribal issues; the hard work of U.S. Attorney Tolman and his dedicated team; Timothy Fuhrman, FBI Special Agent in Charge, at the Salt Lake City Field Office; Larry Schackelford, Special Agent in Charge of BLM Law Enforcement in Utah; and the U.S. Marshal here in Utah. Now it is my pleasure to introduce Secretary Salazar, whose very presence here reflects his strong commitment to these issues.