September 19, 2014

Man pleads guilty in artifacts case

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) – A Wessington Springs man pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge of trafficking in American Indian artifacts and old military items taken illegally from the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

Elliot Hook, 53, also agreed to forfeit thousands of the archaeological items to the federal government.

In a federal court hearing lasting only 25 minutes, Hook admitted that from Jan. 1, 2004 to Oct. 16, 2008, he bought, sold, received and transported stone tools, knives, musket balls and other items that had been illegally excavated or removed from public lands and Indian lands along the Missouri River.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann set Hook’s sentencing for Aug. 17. The judge said federal law allows a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000, but the actual sentence could depend on how federal advisory sentencing guidelines apply to Hook’s case.

Hook will remain free on bond until he is sentenced.

Hook is one of five men indicted for looting or trading pottery, stone tools and other items taken from the banks of the Missouri River, where erosion exposes old burial grounds, military sites and other locations that hold archaeological items.

Hook is the first of the five to be convicted.

A change of plea hearing is scheduled July 28 for John Shield of Madison, Wis. Trials are scheduled for Brian Ekrem of Selby on July 21 and for Richard Geffre of Pierre on Aug. 11. The fifth man facing artifacts charges, Scott Matteson of Fort Pierre, also has pleaded not guilty to charges of being a drug user in possession of firearms and possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

In Monday’s court hearing, Hook agreed to a written document that says he obtained 4,369 objects that were removed from public lands or Indian lands along the shores of the Missouri River in Buffalo, Brule, Charles Mix, Gregory and Lyman counties.

Those items include pottery; stone tools such as knives, scrapers and projectile points; bone items and tools; buttons; pendants; beads; carvings and pipe fragments made from red pipestone; and old items from military forts, trading posts and settlements.

Hook and federal officials agreed the 4,369 items have a commercial value of $2,626.50, according to the written document. The items will be forfeited to the federal government, the document says.

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