JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
This photo of a recovered Hawaiian artifact from Kanupa cave was shown at yesterday's news conference.
Artifacts trafficker pleads guilty
As part of a plea deal, he admits to stealing native Hawaiian items from a Big Isle cave
A Big Island collectibles dealer pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to conspiracy to traffic native Hawaiian artifacts stolen from a burial cave, and could face state felony charges in the theft.
Daniel W. Taylor, 39, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to traffic in American Indian cultural items as part of a plea deal in which the government dropped another charge of selling Hawaiian artifacts in violation of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.
In a hearing before Magistrate Barry Kurren, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Connors also said the government would not seek additional charges against Taylor related to selling artifacts in the summer of 2004.
Under NAGPRA, the charges against Taylor as a first offender are a misdemeanor; a second offense is automatically a felony. Taylor faces a maximum jail sentence of one year, a maximum fine of $100,000 and a year of supervised release. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 6.
Taylor pleaded guilty a week after another defendant in the case, John Carta, who allegedly brought Taylor to Kanupa Cave in Kohala, was charged with a misdemeanor violation of NAGPRA for trying to make a profit selling the items.
Although traffickers, particularly in the southwestern United States, have been aggressively prosecuted under NAGPRA since 1994, this is the first case to be prosecuted in Hawaii.
NAGPRA was set up to prosecute people selling native Hawaiian, American Indian and Native Alaskan artifacts on the black market and also to establish a procedure to return human remains, sacred objects and burial items held in museums to native people.
Prosecutors say that on June 17, 2004, Taylor and Carta broke into the sealed cave and took the artifacts.
At least two of the items were sold: An ancient kapa went to a tourist for $150 on June 26, and a collector bought a fisherman's bowl for $2,083 on July 11.
Taylor also tried to sell a palaoa, a prized necklace, to a collector for $40,000 on June 17. Less than a month later, Taylor posted a kupee, or bracelet, on an Internet auction site. He priced the item at $5,600.
Both Taylor and Carta, 45, still face possible state charges, state Attorney General Mark Bennett said in a news conference with U.S. Attorney General Ed Kubo after yesterday's federal hearing.
Bennett said the theft is so expansive, with 157 artifacts taken, that felony charges might be warranted.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Connors and Major Crimes Chief Ron Johnson examined photos of recovered Hawaiian artifacts after yesterday's news conference at the Federal Building that detailed issues about the items removed from the Big Island's Kanupa cave in June 2004.
"At a time in the future, we are going to make a determination," Bennett said. "This was a series of very disgraceful acts, and I am very glad that the perpetrators of these disgraceful acts have now been brought to justice."
Kubo noted, "We need to make a statement that these types of burial sites are sacred.
"Anyone who dares to enter such a sacred burial site and takes anything is nothing more than a grave robber."
Kubo said that almost all of the items stolen from the cave have been recovered. "I can say we have the lion's share," he said, adding that investigators do have all the items that were sold.
Taylor's attorney Alexander Silvert, a public defender, said many of the items taken were retrieved by investigators with Taylor's help.
Silvert said Taylor "made some bad decisions" and did not understand the implications or cultural and spiritual offenses he committed when he helped Carta retrieve the artifacts and put them up for sale.
"My client wants to apologize to the Hawaiian community for his actions," Silvert said.
"It was Mr. Carta who knew where the cave was," said Silvert, adding, "Mr. Taylor has done everything he can to rectify what he did. He pleaded guilty because he recognizes that what he did was wrong, and he wanted to make it right."
Taylor, who has been cooperating with federal agents since 2004, will likely testify against Carta at trial, Silvert said.
Connors told Kurren that the two men entered Kanupa cave and carried out artifacts that were either wrapped in black cloth or placed in lau hala baskets.
Taylor tried to sell the artifacts via the Internet and by approaching private collectors, prosecutors said. At least one collector who recognized the items contacted federal authorities, triggering the investigation.
In July 2004 the Star-Bulletin began investigating the possible black-market sale of artifacts from Kanupa after speaking to collectors who described what Taylor tried to sell them.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, two collectors told the Star-Bulletin that Taylor showed them beautifully carved bowls, priced as high as $20,000, and other artifacts. But they were wary because some items still bore labels that identified them as belonging to the renowned J.S. Emerson Collection, which the Bishop Museum bought in the late 1880s. Some pieces might also be from the Peabody Museum in Salem, Mass.
The Star-Bulletin found that the Emerson collection items had been repatriated, or legally transferred, under NAGPRA from the Bishop Museum to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei in 1997. Hui Malama is a native Hawaiian organization founded in 1989 for the purpose of repatriating human remains and other artifacts from museums.
In accordance with its beliefs that the items must be returned to the original burial cave to honor ancestors, Hui Malama reburied the items in Kanupa cave.
Alan Murakami, an attorney for Hui Malama, said the group is still waiting to see if the state will conduct its own prosecution of the alleged traffickers under state cave preservation laws.
Critics of Hui Malama say the case proves that precious items are not safe when they are reburied in caves.
La'akea Suganuma, an outspoken opponent of Hui Malama, has repeatedly said that Hui Malama was responsible for protecting the items and failed in making the cave secure.
After it reburied the items, Hui Malama sealed the cave with large boulders. In August 2004 the Star-Bulletin ran a picture of the cave showing the boulders removed and the cave open.
Silvert described Carta as "a drifter" who made replicas of Hawaiian artifacts and had sold some to Taylor for sale in his store. Taylor and his wife operate a small store called Grandma's Attic at Captain Cook's Tiki Shack.
When the case is complete, Kubo said his office will give the items to four native Hawaiian groups: Hui Malama, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Big Island Burial Council and Kalahui Hawaii. The groups will decide how and where the artifacts will be repatriated, he said.
Kubo also indicated that more charges under NAGPRA could follow. Investigators on the Kanupa case have gotten several tips on similar artifacts trafficking operations, he said.
No new cases have been opened, but investigators are following up on several leads.