News and Press Releases

Man Sentenced to Six Months in Prison for Removing 300-plus Pound Boulder Containing Petroglyph from Spring Mountains

April 14, 2011

Las Vegas, Nev. – A Pahrump man who removed and damaged a large petroglyph from the Spring Mountains National Recreational Area near Pahrump, Nevada, has been sentenced to six months in federal prison and one year of supervised release, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Michael Cook, 58, was sentenced on March 30, 2011, by Senior U.S. District Judge Edward C. Reed, Jr. Cook pleaded guilty on October 14, 2010, as originally charged, to a felony violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

In pleading guilty, Cook admitted that between about March and September 2008, he removed a large boulder containing the petroglyph from the Santa Cruz Springs area of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. Cook placed the petroglyph, which depicted seven sheep, in his front yard at his house in Pahrump. Cook admitted that he knew the petroglyph is an archaeological resource and that he did not have a permit to excavate, remove or alter the petroglyph.

During a several-hour sentencing hearing, the government argued that the defendant was aware that the rock was a petroglyph before he took it, because he and his wife used to volunteer to monitor archaeological sites on U.S. Forest Service land. Given the relative remoteness of the site, the rugged terrain, the defendant's admitted knowledge, and the technical difficulty of moving a 300-plus-pound petroglyph of this size, the government argued that this was not a mere crime of opportunity or impulsive error in judgment. The Court agreed and entered findings that the difficult removal of this petroglyph and placing it on display showed that the defendant knew and appreciated its value, and knew that it was wrongful and against the law to remove it.

Two members of the Southern Paiute tribe testified at sentencing that the site from which the petroglyph was removed is a sacred worship site and the removal of the rock containing the petroglyph amounted to desecration of the site. A U.S. Forest Service archeologist testified that because of the damage to the original boulder, as well as the ruggedness of the site itself, the petroglyph cannot be restored to its original condition. The government, in consultation with the Southern Paiutes, came up with a compromise that will attempt to restore the site to respect the cultural significance of the petroglyph and the spiritual uses of the site.

Nye County Sheriff's Department officials discovered the petroglyph in Cook's front yard in Pahrump on June 24, 2009, when they went to his house to execute a search warrant, and reported it to the United States Forest Service.

This investigation was conducted by the United States Forest Service, with the assistance of the law enforcement team of the Southern Nevada Agency Partnership (SNAP), which includes the United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Roger Yang.

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