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There will be no high-profile federal-court trial involving four Utahns accused of stealing and, in some cases, selling ancient American Indian artifacts from public lands.
Three of the defendants, all Blanding residents, switched their pleas to guilty Friday morning in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court. A fourth entered a "diversion agreement."
In exchange, a federal prosecutor recommended probation in three of the cases.
Federal Judge Ted Stewart scheduled formal sentencing for July 18.
The move follows Stewart's March ruling that Arizona dealer Dace Hyatt could testify on behalf of Joseph Smith, Meredith Smith, Tad Kreth and Reece Laws. Hyatt estimated all the artifacts the defendants are accused of trafficking are worth less than $500 apiece the threshold under federal law to constitute a felony charge.
Even so, both Joseph Smith and Kreth pleaded guilty to one felony count each of trafficking in stolen artifacts. The remaining counts were dismissed. If Stewart agrees with the prosecutor's recommendation, Kreth would receive probation under terms that he refrains from entering public lands, buying or exchanging artifacts or associating with anybody who does.
Prosecutors offered no recommendation for Joseph Smith's sentence.
Laws pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft count and also is likely to receive probation.
For her guilty plea, Meredith Smith received a "diversion agreement," meaning that if she refrains from any criminal offense for six months, the charges under the indictment would be dismissed.
"This is a good resolution for us," said her attorney, Todd Utzinger. "It ensures she won't be convicted. And it's a good resolution for the government, because it ensures they'll get a conviction from people with higher culpability."
Utzinger insisted the light sentence for his client made sense, arguing Meredith Smith was never aware of where the stolen artifacts came from nor involved in the negotiation to sell.
The defendants are among the dozens ensnared in a 2009 federal sting for dealing in artifacts alleged to have been stolen from federal or tribal lands. The group sold the artifacts, including a turquoise pendant and a copper bracelet, to government operative and Utah-based dealer Ted Gardiner, who later committed suicide.
Who has been sentenced so far
All have received probation.
Jeanne Redd • Blanding
Jericca Redd • Blanding
Dale Lyman • Blanding
Brent Bullock • Moab
Tammy Shumway • Moab
Nicholas Laws • Blanding
Robert Knowlton • Grand Junction, Colo.
Ray Lyman • Blanding
Aubry Patterson • Blanding
Brandon Laws • Blanding
Richard Bourret • Durango, Colo.