|Friday, Dec 9, 2011|
In November, 2010, park employees discovered an area where unlawful excavation had occurred within the park. Ranger Josh Petersen began an investigation and placed trail cameras in the area. This led to the identification of a suspect, John Santo, and assistance was sought from the Investigative Services Branch. On December 21, 2010, Petersen caught Santo in the act of relic hunting within the park. NPS agents and rangers, with the assistance of Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, obtained a search warrant for Santo’s residence and vehicle. The found and recovered 9,936 artifacts, as well as detailed journals that Santo kept showing that he had been relic hunting almost daily for more than four years, frequently within the park. This evidence helped officials to link Santo with specific prior looting activity known to have occurred in the park, and revealed hundreds of incidents that had gone undetected. A federal grand jury indicted Santo this past July on three felony ARPA counts (16 USC 470ee (a)), one count of theft of government property (18 USC 641), one count of depredation of government property (18 USC 1361), and one count of an unrelated offense which was later dropped by the government. At arraignment, Santo pled not guilty and trial was set for October. Following one continuance, Santo on December 6th changed his plea to guilty on two of the ARPA counts and the theft of government property count. He also agreed to forfeit all items seized during the search, as well as the items seized from his person in December, 2010. The penalties for a felony ARPA offense are a maximum term of two years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, full restitution, a special assessment fee, and a year of supervised release. The penalties for depredation of government property are a maximum term of ten years of imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000, full restitution, a special assessment fee and three years of supervised release. Sentencing is set for March 6th.