Amarillo man pleads guilty to federal charges of stealing Native American artifacts

Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 12:09 PM CST
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Two men pleaded guilty to federal charges of stealing Native American artifacts from the Cross Bar Management Area north of Amarillo.

Dax Wheatley, of Amarillo, and Jeffrey Vance, of San Marcos, face up to two years in prison and payment of restitution for their crimes.

Two years ago, a tip led to the investigation that resulted in the men being charged.

Federal agents confiscated 1,500 artifacts believed to have been illegally excavated from federal land, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Looting from federal lands will always trigger swift enforcement action,” said acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. “The Justice Department will not stand for the theft of precious cultural artifacts. We are working aggressively to safeguard our nation’s Native American heritage and root out those who violate the law.”

The Bureau of Land Management determined the excavation took place at former homestead of the Antelope Creek Culture, a group of Native Americans living in the Texas Panhandle between 1200 to 1500 A.D.

A BLM agent was told photos of the artifacts were posted on social media by Vance, with a user commenting that the dig took place on federal land and rangers would not allow such actions.

According to a press release, Vance wrote in reply that he was “not scared of the feds.”

Wheatley also posted photos of illegal excavations that he and Vance conducted at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site in Austin.

Officials said Vance also posted photos of other dig sites in the Austin and San Marcos areas.

A search warrant was executed at the homes of both Vance and Wheatley in November 2019.

Native American artifacts and remains were seized from Vance’s home, and officials found discussions about selling the items.

Artifacts included burial beads and petrified wood.

BLM officials said they will consult with the appropriate tribes to determine cultural affiliation and to facilitate repatriation of the remains and artifacts.

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