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A troubled man whose fear of reprisal for his undercover role in an artifact-trafficking probe prompted him to sleep with a gun, and whose heavy drinking landed him in the hospital this winter, apparently shot himself to death this week at his Salt Lake County home.
Ted Gardiner, the civilian operative at the center of a 2½-year federal crackdown that spanned the Four Corners region, had turned 52 just a week earlier. Police said Gardiner told his roommates about 6 p.m. Monday that he was suicidal. A short time later, a gunshot rang out from his bedroom in the home near 1700 East and 5000 South.
"At this point, we're strongly leaning toward the fact that his death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson said Tuesday.
Gardiner's is the third suicide after a June 10 raid in southern Utah netted two-dozen suspects, most of them from San Juan County, on multiple felony charges of grave robbing and stealing from prehistoric American Indian ruins on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land.
The case put an intense and unending pressure on Gardiner, his son, Dustin Gardiner, 23, said Tuesday.
"He had a history of mental and substance-abuse problems," Dustin Gardiner said. "The [cases] aggravated that."
Two defendants in the artifact sweep -- James Redd, of Blanding, and Steven Shrader, of Santa Fe, N.M. -- committed suicide after being indicted.
The day after his arrest, Redd died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in the Jeep he had parked near a pond on his property. A week later, Shrader shot himself by a school near his mother's home in Shabbona, Ill.
"When the other two suicides occurred, it bothered him deeply," Dustin Gardiner said. "It was extremely intense."
Ted Gardiner, who had many off-the-record and deep background conversations with The Salt Lake Tribune during the past eight months, insisted he had come to the federal agents on his own to try to stop what he saw as immoral trafficking. Court documents in Utah have confirmed Gardiner -- identified in those papers only as "the Source" -- was a voluntary agent.
"He had a passion for Southwest archaeology and natural history," Dustin Gardiner said. "That was a history he wanted to see protected."
Ted Gardiner, a former head of Dan's Foods, went to the FBI in 2006 to make his offer: He would use the contacts he had developed through his years of artifacts trading and his online business, Gardiner Antiquities, to gather evidence against collectors and dealers who made their living by stealing relics from ruins, trafficking in them or buying them on the open and black market.
On Nov. 19 of that year, he signed a contract with the FBI, which had paid him less than $200,000 by October 2009 for what Gardiner described to The Tribune as a round-the-clock investigation that at times brought him into close contact with dangerous, armed men involved in the methamphetamine trade.
Gardiner worried about his family's safety and his own, especially after Blanding resident Charles Denton Armstrong, who has an extensive criminal history along with ties to a California white-supremacist gang, told others in Blanding he would tie Gardiner to a tree and beat him with a baseball bat. Armstrong has been sentenced to prison.
"I came forward and did this," Gardiner told The Tribune the day after the raids, "because of a problem I perceived." He also made it clear he wanted someday to tell the whole story, promising to forgo his off-the-record demands when he was ready.
Federal agents vetted Gardiner. In court documents, they said his only criminal record was for a 2004 DUI that was pleaded to misdemeanor reckless driving and that he had paid back funds he misused for a rental car during the probe.
Gardiner estimated 95 percent of the relics he dealt with during the investigation were Puebloan. He said that by the time of the indictments, people around the region knew he had informed on them.
"I'm already blown," he said. "My part in the undercover operation is over."
Gardiner said he was to testify at the trial of Grand Junction, Colo., resident Robert Knowlton, which was scheduled for March 29 in Denver.
Knowlton, 66, was indicted in August on five felony counts for allegedly selling looted Indian antiquities worth $6,750 to Gardiner, who wasn't identified in court documents, and shipping the items from Colorado to Utah.
The BLM and FBI have been denounced for the firepower they brought to the raids. Then-U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and other law officers noted they had been informed that all of the homes they raided contained firearms.
A major critic of the operation, San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, whose brother David Lacy faces seven felonies and two misdemeanors in the investigation, said Gardiner's suicide makes the whole saga even more sad.
"I hate to see anyone commit suicide," the sheriff said. "But there could have been more."
In one case, Lacy said, he spent 90 minutes talking down another defendant who was threatening to kill himself. He did not identify that person.
Hutson said that Monday night, after Gardiner's roommates and others in the home ran outside and called authorities, UPD officers arrived at the house and at least one officer entered. That officer found Gardiner alive and armed.
The two spoke with each other, Hutson said, and Gardiner refused to follow the officer's order. Both men then fired their weapons, Hutson said. The officer retreated from the home. A SWAT team evacuated neighboring homes and entered Gardiner's room to find him dead.
Police were at Gardiner's home less than a week ago because he was threatening suicide, Hutson said. On Saturday, officers took his gun because of his threats and sent him to a mental-treatment center. By Monday night, Gardiner -- who was not under any known gun-possession restrictions -- had obtained another firearm.
Gardiner was shot once in the "upper body," Hutson said. Autopsy findings, including the angle of the bullet's entry and the nature of the wound, he said, indicate the shot was self-inflicted.
Hutson said he didn't know what Gardiner told the officer nor would he comment on what Gardiner told his roommates before he retreated into his bedroom with a gun.
"It would be total speculation as to why he was despondent," Hutson said.
An attorney representing James Redd's wife, Jeanne, as well as two other defendants in the artifact case, said he was trying to figure out how Gardiner's suicide might affect his clients.
"This is a weird twist of events, that's for sure," said Salt Lake City lawyer Mark Moffat.
Another Salt Lake City attorney, Wally Bugden, who represents defendants Vern and Marie Crites, of Durango, Colo., said he, too, must evaluate how the witness's death will affect the case and his clients.
"As to the death of Mr. Gardiner," Bugden said, "it only adds tragedy to an already tragic case."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Gardiner was the former president and CEO of Dan's Foods, a Utah institution founded by his grandfather in the early 1900s. He also worked for Gastronomy, which owns and operates several restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley. He was the company's produce manager when Gastronomy started and, until recently, managed its Market Street Grill in Cottonwood Heights.
"We had a close personal and business relationship going back over 25 years," Gastronomy owner Tom Guinney said. "He was an extraordinary man and a brilliant mind, and this is a very sad day."
Tribune reporter Bob Mims contributed to this story.
Ted Gardiner had career in food
Before going undercover, Ted Gardiner was president and CEO of Dan's Foods, a business founded by his grandfather. More recently, he managed Market Street Grill Cottonwood.
Ted Gardiner was to testify this month in the case against accused looter Robert Knowlton. Now, the fate of that case, and of almost two dozen other defendants, is unknown.