Guilty plea in artifact theft
A Big Isle man admits helping a dealer raid a cave where items had been reburied
A Big Island man has acknowledged receiving $200 and an old car from a collectibles dealer for showing the dealer a burial cave where native Hawaiian artifacts were placed, and helping to remove the artifacts from the cave in June 2004.
John A. Carta, 45, of Kailua-Kona pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to conspiracy to sell or traffic in native Hawaiian artifacts, in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA. The crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a year of supervised release.
Carta remains free on supervised release pending sentencing Sept. 8.
The collectibles dealer, Daniel W. Taylor, 39, of Kona, pleaded guilty to the same charge in March. His sentencing is scheduled July 6.
Carta told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang yesterday, "I took an individual, showed him where the cave was. We removed the items. From there he dealt with it."
Rustam Barbee, Carta's attorney, said his client "feels really remorseful about it, to the extent that he's cooperating with the authorities."
But federal investigators had already retrieved most of the items by the time they approached Carta, Barbee said.
Taylor tried to sell the items by approaching collectors and advertising them on the Internet. At least two items were sold. A tourist bought an ancient kapa for $150, and a collector bought a fisherman's bowl for $2,083.
The items are part of the J.S. Emerson Collection, which Bishop Museum bought in the late 1880s. In 1997 the museum legally transferred the items to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei for repatriation under NAGPRA. Hui Malama reburied the items in Kanupa cave in Kohala.
Federal prosecutors said Carta and Taylor broke into the sealed cave to take the artifacts. Barbee said the cave was not sealed well and had just little boulders blocking the entrance.
"Anybody walking by could've just pushed these little rocks out of the way and gone in. It wasn't very protected," he said.
Carta made replicas that Taylor sold to tourists, Barbee said.
He said Carta knew he had done something wrong when he saw that the items from the Kanupa cave had writing on them identifying them as belonging to the Emerson collection.