Two Men Plead Guilty to Looting Over 1,500 Artifacts From Federal Land

Two men pleaded guilty this week to illegally excavating approximately 1,500 artifacts from federal land, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Prerak Shah

The two looters, Jeffery Alan Vance, 37, of San Marcos, and Dax Wheatley, 32, of Amarillo, pleaded guilty this week to violating the Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA).

Each defendant faces up to 2 years in federal prison and restitution for their crimes.

"Looting from federal lands will always trigger swift enforcement action," said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. "The Justice Department will not stand for the theft of precious cultural artifacts.  We are working aggressively to safeguard our nation's Native American heritage and root out those who violate the law."

In March 2019, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received a tip there was an illegal excavation that occurred on a Native American cultural site at the Cross Bar Management Area north of Amarillo.

BLM determined that the illegal excavation took place at a site known as 41PT109 - a former homestead of the Antelope Creek Culture, Native Americans who lived in the Texas panhandle between approximately 1200-1500 A.D.

A BLM agent then received information that a person, later identified as Mr. Vance, had posted photographs of the illegal excavation on social media.

While commenting on the photo, a Facebook user informed Mr. Vance that the area he was "digging in is federal land and Rangers enforce" there. Mr. Vance replied, "I'm not scared of the feds."

Wheatley posted photos of illegal excavations as well that he and Vance conducted at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site in Austin.

According to plea papers, a search warrant was executed at the homes of both Mr. Vance and Mr. Wheatley in November 2019. 

Vance admitted that there were human remains inside his residence and Wheatley had a photograph of the excavation site 41PT109 taped to his refrigerator.

Law enforcement seized Vance's phone and conducted a forensic analysis. Within his phone they found multiple discussions with people about illegally obtained artifacts.

In one text, Vance said, "Don't be telling people we are digging on government property!" Vance also bragged that he is an "infamous illegal excavator of Native American artifacts in Texas" and that he is "a criminal."

In total, approximately 1,500 artifacts were recovered by federal authorities including burial beads and petrified wood.

BLM will consult with the appropriate tribes to determine cultural affiliation and to facilitate repatriation of the remains and artifacts.

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