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Man Gets Probation, $5,600 in Fines for Removing Artifact

July 21, 1998|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Pacific Palisades man who illegally picked up an ancient seashell on Santa Rosa Island was sentenced Monday in federal court to one year of probation and ordered to pay $5,600 in fines.

Robert R. Bredin, a 57-year-old pilot for United Airlines, also is banished from Channel Islands National Park during his probation.

Bredin pleaded guilty May 11 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to removing an artifact from an ancient Indian site.

The shell he slipped into his backpack during a walk last year was a 6,000-year-old Chumash artifact. That fact made his action a federal misdemeanor, with a maximum possible sentence of a year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

His attorney, Harriet Leva, said the Park Service's reaction was swift and strong because officials mistakenly believed that Bredin was trying to start an artifacts business. Bredin had been given virtually unrestricted access to the islands as a commercial pilot and volunteered on numerous Park Service projects, Leva said.

"The fact that he was able to fly freely to the islands fit into the theory that this guy might be trading in Indian artifacts," Leva said. "That's what raised the suspicions. . . . That's why I think they came down way too hard on this guy. They felt betrayed and they overreacted because they thought there was much more to it."

But Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said Bredin was not a scapegoat. What he did was wrong and he knew better, Mrozek said.

"We want to dispel the notion that this guy was singled out for any reason or that he was subjected to any particularly vigorous prosecution," Mrozek said. "It's like if someone went to your grandfather's grave and decided to take something out of it. In this case we were working to protect federal interests and to vindicate the victims--which in this case were the Chumash people."

On March 11, 1997, Bredin flew two passengers to Santa Rosa Island for a picnic. After eating, Bredin and his brother-in-law went for a walk in the dunes.

Several park rangers spotted them through binoculars from a nearby pier and noted that the pair were in an area known to be an ancient Chumash grave site.

After lunch, Bredin and his companions hiked to another part of the island where he found the abalone shell.

As Bredin and his companions were returning to the airstrip, they were stopped by park rangers who asked if they had picked up anything during their hike.

Bredin handed over the shell. Within two weeks, federal agents searched his home for more artifacts. Although they did not find any artifacts, the agents found a photo of Bredin removing the shell, which they argued showed that he knew the significance of the item.

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