Second Defendant Commits Suicide After Utah Raids
By Mary Jacoby | June 20, 2022 12:53 am

A recent massive federal raid and arrests of two dozen people for selling Indian artifacts allegedly plundered from public lands is turning into a public relations problem for the Obama administration. On Friday, news broke that a second defendant in the case had committed suicide.

To put it mildly, events aren’t turning out the way the Department of Justice planned when it trumpeted news of the June 10 arrests.

At first, the department clearly thought it had a great story to tell. It sent out a national news release describing the two-year undercover investigation as ”the nation’s largest investigation of archaeological and cultural artifact thefts.”

Brett Tolman (gov)

Brett Tolman (gov)

The administration dispatched heavy hitters to stand next to Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman at a news conference in Salt Lake. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was there, along with Deputy Attorney General David Ogden. Also at the news conference was the new Bureau of Indian Affairs head, Larry EchoHawk, a former Brigham Young University law professor; and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Utah office, Timothy Fuhrman.

But residents of the rural Four Corners area of Utah near the Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona borders quickly began grumbling about heavy-handedness on the part of the feds. More than 100 agents including an FBI SWAT team participated in the raids. Among the 24 arrests were four suspects who were more than 70 years old. Although some agents reportedly had drawn their guns, the raids were carried out without violence - except for one suspect who alleged his toes had been broken.

The real problems for the government emerged after the raids. On June 11, a 60-year-old doctor who’d been arrested and charged committed suicide, apparently by carbon monoxide poisoning. It didn’t matter to local residents that James Redd and his wife had a history of run-ins with the law over Indian artifacts. (The Redds had paid the state of Utah $10,000 in 2003 after being prosecuted for raiding an Indian burial ground. The charges against Redd for the 1996 incident were eventually dropped, while his wife, Jeanne, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge.)

People in Redd’s home town of Blanding told local reporters they were outraged by the arrests and the apparent suicide of a respected member of their close-knit community. One resident told the Salt Lake Tribune the government was “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Other area residents told the Deseret News that stumbling upon pieces of Native American pots and arrowheads is common. So is keeping the artifacts.

Ill feelings were on the rise. The Republican attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder slamming Tolman for not cooperating with local law enforcement authorities in the raids. A spokesman for Shurtleff later told Main Justice he’d reconciled with Tolman. Read our previous story about the dispute here.

Then last Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) raised the profile of what had been mostly a local story, rebuking Holder at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Hatch called the raids a “dog and pony show” and added: “I am questioning the motives of some of the higher-ups at Justice and at Interior.” Read our previous story here. Holder defended the raids, saying they were “felony arrests” carried out under standard operating procedures. But Hatch interrupted. “This is a doctor who everybody respected, everybody loved in the community … He was so overwrought by it, he took his life,” the Deseret News reported.

After the dust-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, federal law enforcement officials in Utah scrambled to hold a news conference to defend their actions. Fuhrman, the FBI agent in charge of Utah, explained that most of the homes authorities had raided had firearms in them. One of the suspects had been recorded during the investigation vowing to kill any federal agent who tried to arrest him.

The story seemed to die down a bit. Then on Friday came the news that Steven L. Shrader, 56, had been found dead behind an elementary school in Shabbona, Ill., after sherriff officers had responded to a call about a despondent man. Shrader had been charged with two felony counts of trafficking a pair of ancient sandals and a basket. Authorities said he apparently shot himself twice in the chest.

Where this is going, who knows. It might fizzle out. Or it could kick off another era of black helicopters conspiracy theories like the ones that dogged Holder’s former boss,  Attorney General Janet Reno, in the 1990s.  In the Bill Clinton era, the department was struggling with law enforcement debacles at Waco, Texas, and the aftermath of Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The Utah raids are not Waco. They are not Ruby Ridge. Federal agents didn’t kill anybody. Still, you never know where matters are going when Westerners start getting really paranoid about the federal government.


Comments are closed.

The Senate Democratic leader describes the Republicans' refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee "historically unbelievable and historically unprecedented."

  • Former Owner of Empire Towers Pleads Guilty for Fraudulent $7 Million Bond Scheme and Filing False Tax Return
  • Deutsche Bank's London Subsidiary Agrees to Plead Guilty in Connection with Long-Running Manipulation of LIBOR
  • Northern California Real Estate Investor Agrees to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud Conspiracies at Public Foreclosure Auctions
  • Service Members to Receive Over $123 Million for Unlawful Foreclosures Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
  • Justice Department and State Partners Secure $1.375 Billion Settlement with S&P; for Defrauding Investors in the Lead Up to the Financial Crisis
  • Northern California Real Estate Investor Agrees to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions
  • Eleven Northern California Real Estate Investors Indicted for Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions
  • Alabama Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud
  • Five Northern California Real Estate Investors Indicted for Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions
  • Two Former Rabobank Traders Indicted for Alleged Manipulation of U.S. Dollar, Yen Libor Interest Rates