FBI’s paid ‘source’ fingered dozens in 21/2-year probe
An artifacts dealer turned informant was paid $224,000 by the FBI over 2 1/2 years during an investigation that resulted in the recent indictments of 24 people, while others remain under suspicion, according to court records made public Friday.
The informant, under contract with the FBI and working undercover, purchased 256 suspected stolen artifacts for $335,685.
Referred to in court filings as “The Source,” the informant participated in 132 secretly recorded conversations with people suspected of dealing in various archaeological artifacts stolen from federal lands. That includes several meetings with Robert “Bob” Knowlton of 1602 Dolores St. on Orchard Mesa.
In “wired” conversations with Knowlton and “The Source,” the Orchard Mesa man said he regularly obtained archeological artifacts from Bureau of Land Management archaeologists and a park ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, according to the records.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, said an investigation involving Knowlton remains ongoing. Knowlton has not been arrested in the case.
At the end of a 10-hour search of his home June 11, after numerous items were seized, Knowlton told The Daily Sentinel he had done nothing wrong and would soon explain the situation.
“The truth shall set you free,” Knowlton said the evening of June 11, then he shut his door.
According to an affidavit in support of a search warrant on Knowlton’s home, “The Source” named Knowlton among several people as “probably trading” in archaeological artifacts from federal and private lands across the Four Corners region.
The records describe an alleged tight-knit network of diggers, buyers and sellers — all careful to conceal the true site origin of their artifacts.
“The Source,” for most of his undercover transactions, gave sellers so-called “letters of provenance,” or origin.
“The (seller) knowingly represents that the artifact came from leased and/or private land when in fact the individual recovered or knew the item was recovered on public and/or Indian land,” court records read.
“The Source” met Knowlton twice last year at his former home in Fort Collins, where Knowlton pointed out items such as pottery bowls and pipes for sale, all suspected of being recovered from federal lands, according to the affidavit.
On one visit, the informant said, Knowlton showed off three pipes that he said were collected from Blanding, Utah. The informant asked Knowlton whether one of the BLM archaeologists “pocketed it,” and Knowlton said he collected items from “them all the time,” the records said.
“Knowlton added this one (pointing to an item) right here came from a BLM Archy out of Arizona,” the informant said in the affidavit.
Knowlton at the same meeting showed a Midland knife that was found on Forest Service land by a park ranger near Telluride.
“The Source asked how Knowlton got it from a Park Ranger. Knowlton replied he sold it to me,” the affidavit said.
Knowlton was offering the knife for approximately $3,200, the informant said.
He said he “has to work hard to sell about two to three grand worth of stuff (per month) and I
live really good, I live fine,” the affidavit said.
Altogether, Knowlton said his collection totalled nearly 3,700 artifacts.
“The Source asked for a price for the whole thing and Knowlton thought the retail value was half million or a little better,” the affidavit said.
County property records say Knowlton purchased the home at 1602 Dolores St. on June 5, six days before federal agents raided it.
Two days before the search, Knowlton said he was still in the artifacts dealing business, the affidavit said.
Knowlton is alleged to have said he had plans to look for items on Black Ridge, BLM public land, on Thursday, the day of the raid.
“The Source” is described by authorities in the court records as “having extensive contacts dealing in archaeological material, including excavators, dealers, and collectors.”
The informant’s criminal record includes a 2005 arrest for DUI, which was pleaded to a lesser charge, according to the affidavit.
The informant also was accused by federal officials during the probe of misusing federal funds.
“In November 2008, the Source used monies provided by the FBI for a lease car expense to pay for personal expenses,” the records read. “Initially, the Source denied the misuse, but quickly admitted the mistake and has made arrangements for payments to the leasing company.”