Feds Face Criticism Over Arrests in Artifacts Case

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The sun was barely up when federal agents began surrounding a dozen homes scattered across rural southern Utah, the final stroke of a two-year undercover investigation into the theft and trafficking of ancient Indian artifacts around the Four Corners area.

At most places, six or seven armed officers moved in, rousting the occupants and securing the homes so that government archaeologists and photographers could enter and begin cataloguing evidence. At one house, an FBI SWAT team was used.

More than 20 people were arrested June 10 -- including four people older than 70. A day later, one of the men arrested -- a prominent doctor -- committed suicide, and local residents began complaining the government was heavy handed in the raids, especially given that no one was accused of any violent crime.

The episode has put the federal government on the defensive in what has been touted as the nation's largest-ever investigation into the theft of archaeological objects.

Bruce Adams, a commissioner in San Juan County in southern Utah where many of the arrests took place, said there have been reports of ''regular neighbors'' being roughed up and facing agents in bulletproof vests with weapons drawn.


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