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Blanding » It's in the eyes and the voices of folks in this small San Juan County town --- anger at the federal government for its undercover operation to root out those who take antiquities from public lands.
Their anger turned to outrage as they learned how physician James Redd took his own life after being charged with a felony count of trafficking in archaeological artifacts protected by federal law.
Two dozen people were indicted earlier this week, most of them from Blanding and a few others from Colorado and New Mexico. Federal agents had recruited a confidential informant who bought and sold artifacts for a total of $335,685 over two years.
"I feel the way most townspeople do," Buddy Black, 53, said Friday. "I'm angry. Just real angry."
Federal officials, however, have sworn to continue clamping down on illegal antiquity trafficking. U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said earlier this week that those who steal artifacts "take something that never can be replaced."
Redd, 60, appears to have killed himself with carbon monoxide, family spokesman Phil Mueller said Friday. Redd was found dead in his Jeep on Thursday next to a pond on his property.
Redd gave no indication of what he was planning and no explanation for his suicide, said Mueller, who owns radio stations in Moab and is married to Redd's niece.
"The night before, he dictated medical records at home before he went to bed," Mueller said.
San Juan County Chief Deputy Grayson Redd said James Redd left a note at his home at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday saying he was going to the pond. When he did not return by 10 a.m., the family called their LDS bishop, who asked the sheriff's office for help. The bishop found the Jeep and James Redd at about 4 p.m.
Redd was an important figure here as a physician, but also was known for helping people.
Even on the Utah strip of the Navajo Nation, Redd was very much loved, said Mark Maryboy, former San Juan County commissioner and member of the Navajo Tribal Council.
"I'm very sad. Dr. Redd was a good friend of mine," Maryboy said. "Dr. Redd was one of a kind; he was good to everyone."
Maryboy said federal authorities were heavy-handed in the way they went about enforcing the antiquities law.
"The federal government has a responsibility to protect antiquities," he said. "But they have a responsibility to protect people, too. Anytime somebody loses his or her life, like Dr. Redd, it's gone too far."
People already are feeling at a loss without their doctor, said Shalain Lucero. And many are blaming federal authorities for his death.
"I really think that what has been done here will affect the town for a long time," she said. "This has hurt many people."
Lucero, 27, was delivered by Redd, as were her siblings.
"I'm very angry with the federal government. The way they did this was unreal," she said. "People woke up with guns in their faces and they arrested them in front of their kids."
Quinn Howe, who leases farmland from the Redds, said federal authorities "went overboard" and put so much pressure on Redd that "he couldn't take it any more."
"You get your name drug through the mud and you're never the same person," he said. "Dr. Redd dealt with this three or four times before. Everybody has their breaking point."
Redd and his wife, Jeanne, were accused in the 1990s of trespassing on Indian burial sites and were prosecuted for robbing a grave.
Charges against Redd were dropped, and Jeanne Redd pleaded no contest to a reduced charge.
Jeanne Redd faces two charges of buying and selling protected antiquities, and her husband was indicted on one count.
Ancient Puebloan sites and relics are strewn all across San Juan County, Howe noted. And for over a century, people have been collecting them on private land -- where it is legal -- and on public land, where it is now illegal.
When a federal informant recently offered large sums of money to people for pots, sandals and other antiquities, they were "set up," Howe said.
"The reason the whole town isn't in jail is the rest of us didn't meet up with this guy," he said. "To set people up and then knock 'em off, it just ain't right."
For Buddy Black, and others, the federal government just reinforced the notion that it's an oppressive force.
"Hitler had the Gestapo and the U.S. has the FBI," he said. "This has about put me over the edge."
Reading about the indictments in the newspaper leaves the impression that folks in Blanding belong to a "big, organized ring," Black said. "But nobody ever made a living on artifacts."
On Wednesday, federal authorities arrested 24 suspects in the theft and sale of more than 250 artifacts taken from public and tribal lands in the Four Corners area. Most of the defendants are from San Juan County.
Blanding physician James Redd, one of the accused, was found dead Thursday on his property. His family confirmed that he likely took his own life. His funeral is in Blanding on Tuesday.