Union County man sentenced for removing historical artifacts

A Union County man was sentenced Monday for knowingly removing thousands of historical artifacts from a Southern Illinois National Wildlife Refuge, NWR.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Midwest Region external affairs office in Ft. Snelling, Minn., reported in a news release that Leslie Jones was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment, 500 hours of community service, five  years of probation, and was ordered to pay $150,326.06 in restitution to Cypress Creek NWR.

Jones was cited for excavating, collecting and transporting illegally taken archaeological resources from a prehistoric Native American site on the Southern Illinois refuge near Ullin.  

In his plea agreement, signed October 2009, Jones admitted to selling the articles to interested collectors to supplement his income.  

Jones' case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Illinois.

In January 2007, Jones was observed by Fish & Wildlife Service, FWS, refuge officers digging and removing these artifacts from an archeological site on the refuge.  

The site, as it was later determined, minimally dates to the Middle to Late Archaic to Middle Woodland periods (6000 B.C. to 400 A.D.).

It is suggested that, based on the artifacts found, Native Americans used this site for stone tool production, cooking and other domestic activities.

In late January of 2007, law enforcement officers and special agents from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office seized 13,232 artifacts from Jones’ residence during the execution of a federal search warrant.

These artifacts included pottery, clay figurines, tools and over 200 pieces of human skeletal material. Jones later admitted living off the artifacts he collected and sold.

“The damage caused by Leslie Jones can’t be measured in simple dollars,” said Tim Santel, resident agent-in-charge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Indiana, Illinois, Missouri).  

“These sites give us an unprecedented glimpse into the past. He has done devastating harm to the site, as many of these artifacts are lost forever, denying the American public much in the way of understanding past human existence.”

Staff from the Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale assessed the estimated value of the damage to the site at more than $150,000.    

“Archeological sites are similar to a museum,” said Mark Wagner, staff archaeologist at the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  

“We wouldn’t tolerate someone going into a museum and removing an object because they felt like it. These items don’t belong to archeologists, they were stolen from the American public.”

According to Mary McCorvie, forest archaeologist with the Shawnee National Forest, public awareness and interest plays a role in combating and preventing similar crimes.

“In Southern Illinois, we have a rich history of human occupation for twelve to fourteen thousand years,” McCorvie said.  

"Taking these pieces destroys critical pieces of our historical puzzle. It’s important the public know how important and fragile these links to the past are, and the role they can play in combating this.    

"We’ve found that the public’s interest in preservation is critical to reducing vandalism.  

"People are aware of a number of sites like this that contain significant cultural resources, and we’d love them to both refrain from taking found artifacts, and report suspected incidences of vandalism or theft.”

Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, ARPA, it is a felony to disturb, alter, remove or damage archaeological sites and objects that are over 100 years old on Federal lands.

Archaeological sites and artifacts are also protected by 36 Code of Federal Regulations, CFR, which prohibits digging in, excavating, disturbing, injuring, destroying or in any way damaging prehistoric, historic or archaeological resources, structure, site, artifact, property, or removing such items.  

Persons found guilty of offenses against ARPA could be punished by not more than two years in prison and not more than $250,000 for the first offense.


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