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Key player in artifacts theft taking plea deal

Published September 27, 2010 1:38 pm

Four Corners • Feds said "price-setter" had astonishing collection in his home.
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A Southwest antiquities dealer who was forced to surrender five truckloads of American Indian relics to federal agents is expected to settle charges of digging up a grave and plundering artifacts from federal lands, his defense lawyer has revealed in court papers.

Durango, Colo., artifacts dealer Carl "Vern" Crites was one of the biggest players in a Four Corners bust of artifact trafficking that led to charges against 26 defendants last year.

Crites, 75, was a dealer described in government affidavits as a "price setter" for antiquities because of his influence over the market. Federal agents have said he had an astonishing collection confiscated from his Durango home in January.

Crites had been set to go on trial at federal court in Salt Lake City on Monday. He was charged in a government sting operation that spanned Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The plea deal also covers his wife, Marie Virginia Crites, and Richard Bourret, another Durango defendant charged in the same indictment, Salt Lake City lawyer Wally Bugden said in the court notice filed Thursday.

The notice didn't specify terms of the plea deal, and Bugden and prosecutors didn't immediately return calls Monday.

Bugden filed the notice along with a request for U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to approve the plea deal in three weeks. No hearing has been set.

Crites, his wife and Bourret were indicted on theft and trafficking charges for a series of transactions made with a Utah antiquities dealer-turned government informant, according to an arrest warrant.

On Sept. 14, 2008, the informant watched Crites dig up an ancient burial site, kicking out a skull on the third shovelful.

Spooked, Crites and Bourret covered up the remains without recovering any artifacts.

"Wish that fella had still been intact, the skeleton I mean," Crites was recorded saying at a site in San Juan County.

Crites also revealed to the government informant that in a 1986 raid, federal agents took 32 of his pots but overlooked a hidden safe and the most damning evidence — a ledger of a lifetime of trading that named people he dealt with.

He also was recorded saying the safe contained a mummified eagle.