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Report: BLM agent handed out confiscated Moqui marbles ‘like candy’

SHARE Report: BLM agent handed out confiscated Moqui marbles ‘like candy’
FILE - Special agent Dan Love of Salt Lake Cities Bureau of Land Management and Asst. U.S. Attorney Richard Mckelvie carry case files into the Moab courthouse. The last of the 24 people accused of stealing Native American artifacts from the Four Corners a

FILE - Special agent Dan Love of Salt Lake Cities Bureau of Land Management and Asst. U.S. Attorney Richard Mckelvie carry case files into the Moab courthouse. The last of the 24 people accused of stealing Native American artifacts from the Four Corners area, appeared before Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba in Moab, Thursday morning. Moab, Utah, Thursday, June 11, 2009.

Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In June 2009, the Bureau of Land Management's Dan Love led Operation Cerberus, a raid involving the nation's largest Native American artifacts trafficking case, resulting in 25 arrests.

Twelve teams of federal agents, including a SWAT team, carried out operations on 12 properties in the Four Corners region and around the communities of Moab, Monticello and Blanding.

Flash forward eight years to Thursday when the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General released a report that substantiated allegations that Love ordered a subordinate to remove Moqui marbles from his agency's evidence room — marbles that were part of a criminal investigation after being illegally removed from a national park five years earlier.

Some ancient cultures believe Moqui marbles have mystical and healing qualities. They contain a sandstone center encased in an iron oxide shell and are found in many of Utah's national parks, including Zion. They are named after the Moqui Indians and used by some tribes to communicate with their ancestors.

The report on Love's handling of the criminal evidence goes on to detail that more than 80 five-gallon buckets contained thousands of the marbles — with a retail value of up to $520,000 — that were stored in an evidence room in Salt Lake City. During the inventory, according to the report, Love told three employees they could take one to display on their desks.

During the counting, Love also told the employee to remove three or four of the "best" marbles from evidence to give to him, the report says.

"The subordinate told us he 'had a bad feeling' about removing the marbles from evidence, but did not question the instructions because the senior manager was a law enforcement official and was 'scary.' The subordinate knew at the time the marbles were evidence in an ongoing criminal prosecution," according to the report.

The marbles were distributed among co-workers and a contractor over a period of a couple of years before the Inspector General's Office initiated an investigation in November of 2016 based on a number of alleged violations.

The case involving Love and the Moqui marbles is strangely juxtaposed with the Native American artifacts raid eight years ago that some critics called overkill and the federal government insisted was justice.

No one served prison time, and three people central to the case — a pair of defendants and a confidential informant — killed themselves in the aftermath.

Locals complained that a simple property crimes case treated ordinary citizens as hardened criminals in an overblown raid, but a civil complaint alleging excessive force was dismissed earlier this year by the courts. Looting is a federal crime, as well as the selling or trafficking in Native American antiquities.

On Wednesday, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, requested an unredacted version of an earlier investigation by the Inspector General's Office that probed Love and ethics complaints.

With this new report finding that Love — as special agent in charge of Nevada and Utah — violated evidence policy, Bishop is now wanting answers from the Department of Interior.

"After numerous reports substantiating serious allegations of misconduct, including the destruction of federal records, defiance of congressional document requests and misuse of ancient artifacts under investigation as office decor, I expect Interior to hold Dan Love accountable. The people of Utah and Nevada — and the American taxpayers — deserve better," Bishop said.

The most recent investigation detailed that Love ordered a subordinate to "scrub" emails he sent that would cast him in an unfavorable light. Another allegation that documents had been destroyed in the height of a congressional inquiry could not be substantiated.

Two laptops assigned to Love were lost earlier this year, the report says, and notes a trio of employees told investigators that Love repeatedly said the computers he used would disappear or become broken if he or his job were targeted.

“I look forward to seeing how this administration responds to the unethical behavior uncovered by the report," Bishop said. "We must take steps to restore trust in federal law enforcement officers and hold employees accountable for their mismanagement of our taxpayer resources.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the case, but the report has been turned over to the acting assistant secretary for Lands and Mineral Management for appropriate action.

Love has declined to respond to requests for comment.

In an earlier ethics probe of Love released earlier this year, the inspector general substantiated that breaches had occurred, noting he used his position to secure preferential treatment for him and his family at the 2015 Burning Man event in Nevada.

Love has long been at the center of multiple complaints by rural Utah sheriff's offices, alleging that while at the helm of law enforcement agents for the BLM, the agent was dismissive and uncooperative.

A contingent of rural county commissioners and sheriff's officials traveled to Washington, D.C., to complain of the souring relationships and ask for the agent's removal.

Love also oversaw the federal law enforcement response regarding the armed standoff on the Utah-Nevada border with the Cliven Bundy family over unpaid grazing fees.