Feds indict local man in artifacts theft case
An Orchard Mesa man whose home was searched in June as part of a multistate investigation of stolen artifacts from federal lands has been formally charged.
Robert B. Knowlton, 66, 1602 Dolores St., was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on four counts of sale, or offer to sell, or transport of an archaeological resource, as well as one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. All are felonies.
Knowlton is expected to be served with a summons, not arrested. He is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Denver on Sept. 14.
He faces anywhere from two to 10 years in prison and $330,000 in possible fines.
According to the indictment, Knowlton on July 17, 2008, sold to an informant three artifacts that had been removed from federal lands: a cloud blower pipe, a Midland knife point and a Hell’s Gap knife.
The indictment alleges Knowlton moved the same items across state lines from Colorado to Utah in violation of federal law.
Knowlton’s home was searched for 10 hours on June 11, and federal agents removed several items from his property.
On Wednesday morning, Knowlton said he was unaware of the charges.
“I don’t know about that,” Knowlton said outside his home. He declined comment and walked away.
Knowlton’s attorney, Bill Richardson, also said Wednesday he had not seen the indictment and declined comment.
According to a search warrant affidavit, a man identified in court records as “The Source” named Knowlton among several people as trading in relics from graves, ruins and tribal sites around the Four Corners region.
“The Source” has helped federal authorities arrest or charge 26 people, including Knowlton. Two people have killed themselves after being charged in the investigation.
Mesa County property records say Knowlton purchased his home at 1602 Dolores St. on June 5, six days before federal agents raided it.
Knowlton moved to the area from Fort Collins.
“The Source” met Knowlton twice last year at his former Fort Collins home, according to the affidavit.
On one visit, the informant said, Knowlton showed off three pipes that he said were collected from Blanding, Utah. When the informant asked whether the items were “pocketed” by Bureau of Land Management archaeologists, Knowlton said he collected artifacts from them “all the time.”
He also told the informant he purchased the Midland knife point, the same item listed in Tuesday’s indictment, from a U.S. Forest Service ranger near Telluride.
“... Knowlton said (park ranger) found it after a fire, and he used to buy a lot of stuff from them,” the affidavit said.
Knowlton said he purchased the Hell’s Gap knife “three or four years ago” from a woman he met outside Canyonlands Field airport near Moab.
He sold the knife, Midland knife point and the cloud blower pipe to “The Source” for $8,600 in cash. Knowlton told the source he preferred cash and said, “I like that I don’t have to tell nobody,” according to the affidavit.
Knowlton had the items mailed to the informant, who turned them over to federal investigators.
Altogether, Knowlton said his collection totalled nearly 3,700 artifacts.
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.
Knowlton still was collecting artifacts after moving to Orchard Mesa.
The affidavit said Knowlton told the informant he had plans to look for items on Black Ridge, BLM land, on the day agents showed up at his home.