Stealer of artifacts gets prison
A 45-year-old Big Island man was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for his part in the theft of native Hawaiian artifacts from a burial cave in Kohala.
John A. Carta of Kailua-Kona admitted to leading a collectibles dealer to the cave and assisting him in removing the items on June 17, 2004, in exchange for $200 and an old car.
According to his lawyer, Carta made replicas that the dealer sold to tourists.
Carta had pleaded guilty in federal court on May 26 to conspiracy to sell or traffic in native Hawaiian artifacts, violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren also sentenced Carta to a year of supervised release.
Carta, a first-time offender, received the maximum penalty of one year in prison. He could have faced a maximum five years' imprisonment had he been a repeat offender.
"The United States Attorney's Office will continue to protect the sanctity of human remains and burial objects by enforcing Section 1170(b) to prevent the desecration of burial sites," a news release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Edward Ayau of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, which had repatriated the items to the cave in 1997, was pleased with the sentence.
But Ayau believes the state and county should also have been simultaneously pursuing civil and criminal actions against Carta and the dealer including trespassing and desecration of a burial site.
"It's not a deterrent if all Carta gets is a year in federal prison and a year probation," he said. "You have to make it so that stealing from a grave is not an option."
State Attorney General Mark Bennett said, "We are still actively reviewing the matter."
The collectibles dealer, Daniel W. Taylor of Kona, also pleaded guilty to the same charge in March. His sentencing is scheduled for May 15.
Taylor had tried to sell the items by going to collectors and advertising them on the Internet. He sold at least two items -- an ancient kapa for $150 and a fisherman's bowl for $2,083.
The items were part of the J.S. Emerson Collection, which the Bishop Museum purchased in the late 1880s, and were legally transferred to Hui Malama for repatriation.
Hui Malama, the Hawaii Island Burial Council, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Ka La Hui Hawaii were involved in the items' repatriation to Kanupa Cave, Ayau said.
Ayau applauded federal and state agents who investigated the case.
But "this crime is only partially solved," he said.
"I'm interested in knowing how they knew they had been reburied," Ayau said. "I'm most interested in knowing who is it that coordinated this, who masterminded what took place."
Ayau said he does not believe it was Carta.
"How did he know what was placed in the cave?" he asked. "How did he know a reburial took place? How did he know these items had been put back?"