A Union County man was sentenced Tuesday for knowingly removing thousands of historical artifacts from a Southern Illinois National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
Leslie Jones, (50), of Creal Springs, was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment, 500 hours community service, five years of probation, and to pay $150,326.06 in restitution to Cypress Creek NWR, for excavating, collecting, and transporting illegally taken archaeological resources from a prehistoric Native American site on the southern Illinois refuge. In his plea agreement, signed October 2009, Jones admitted 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, 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 at 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 12-14 thousand years,” said McCorvie. 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 said items. Persons found guilty of offenses against ARPA could be punished by not more than two years in prison and not more than $250,000.00 for the first offense.
Please enjoy these remnants of times gone by, and help preserve our history by leaving archaeological sites and artifacts undisturbed and reporting any looters or evidence of looting activity that you see to the ARPA hotline, at 1-800-227-7286.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve,
Protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visithttp://www.fws.gov.
Tim Santel, 217-971-5100
Jason Holm, 612-713-5310