Prosecutors: Informant in artifacts case is clean

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The undercover operative in a federal bust of artifact trading collected around $7,500 a month for secretly recording transactions with collectors and sellers across the Southwest for more than two years, new court papers say.

Ted Gardiner, a Utah antiquities dealer, got an initial $10,000 payment before the sting operation began in earnest, then collected regular monthly payments throughout 2007 and 2008, according to FBI disclosures in court files.

Gardiner is still being paid for helping agents prepare for nearly two dozen court cases, and he will receive more money if he testifies, according to papers in one of the cases. Gardiner had received $162,000 in payments plus expenses, for a total of $224,000, when most of the arrests were made in June.

The operative has no felony or misdemeanor convictions or charges pending against him nor immunity, U.S. Attorney David Gaouette in Colorado said in papers filed in the case of Robert B. Knowlton, a former used-car salesman caught up in the dragnet.

Gaouette disclosed a wealth of information on Gardiner, including a copy of his FBI contract. In Utah, lawyers representing 21 of the original 26 defendants have complained that authorities here have yet to give up the information.

Gaouette wrote in court papers that Gardiner had used drugs and abused alcohol in the past, but has nothing worse than minor traffic citations on his record. The FBI and U.S. Bureau of Land Management obtained his cooperation without any inducements other than payments, and without any threats, the U.S. attorney said.

Knowlton, 66, who ran a Web site from Grand Junction, Colo., called Bob’s Flint Shop, was accused of selling three items taken from federal land to Gardiner: a pipe, a Midland knife point and a Hell Gap knife. He has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is set for March 29.

Knowlton recounted for investigators how he got involved in the business _ with a major setback. He made his first serious purchase in 1997 from a Colorado antique dealer.

“I spent probably close to $25,000 and they were all fakes, the whole bunch of them,” he said, according to an interview by Bureau of Land Management agents that was made part of his court record. He then sought an education in artifacts to avoid getting scammed again.

The federal investigation, one of the largest of its kind, peeled open the black market trade in artifacts taken from federal or tribal lands in the Four Corners region. The relics, some believed to be thousands of years old, can sell for thousands of dollars apiece. Federal authorities say they often end up in the homes of wealthy collectors in the Southwest and beyond.

Gardiner, who ran an artifacts business called Gardiner Antiquities, provided federal agents at the outset with all of his business records, access to his Web site and computers and a list of dealers and collectors, according to the court papers released last month. He spent $335,000 buying artifacts for the government, consulting the FBI before on how much to pay for each item.

Gardiner’s largest paychecks ended last summer, but the FBI has continued to pay him “small” amounts for his cooperation, the U.S. attorney in Denver said. When asked about it, the FBI in Salt Lake City refused to confirm Gardiner was still on the payroll.

Knowlton’s is the only case scheduled for a trial. Last week, lawyers in Utah told a federal magistrate that a handful of the defendants were expected to settle charges with plea bargains. Others defendants are fighting charges.

Two of the 26 defendants – one a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman, the other a prominent Blanding, Utah, physician, James Redd – committed suicide after their arrests.

Separately, Redd’s wife and daughter surrendered their own vast collections, pleaded guilty and were sentenced last summer to terms of probation. The rest of the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

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