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Man Charged With Selling Skull on EBay

Tipped off by a Hawaiian group, a federal sting snares an Orange County resident.

September 09, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Youthful indiscretion and the power of EBay have landed a Huntington Beach man in hot water with the feds.

Thirty-five years ago, Jerry David Hasson, 55, found a prehistoric skull in the sands of Hawaii; today he faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine for allegedly violating the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act by selling the skull on EBay.

"These are the ancestors of our native Hawaiians," said Assistant U.S. Atty. William Carter, who is prosecuting the case. "All of these remains are part of our historical and cultural heritage, and we have to preserve them for the [native] people and for ourselves."

Hasson could not be reached for comment.

According to authorities, Hasson said he found the skull while he and Charlton Heston's son Fraser were living on Maui during the 1969 filming of "The Hawaiians," a feature film starring the elder Heston and in which Hasson played a bit part.

One day, Hasson said, he and two friends, including Fraser Heston, decided to explore a guarded archeological site on Kaanapali Beach.

"Being a teenager, I along with some friends ... decided to sneak over late one night and see what we could find," Hasson wrote in an EBay ad he posted this year.

"While digging in the sand, we began to uncover an entire skeleton and, of course, I decided to keep the skull. For the last 35 years, I've kept this 200-year-old Hawaiian Warrior as a souvenir of my youth but now it's time to give him to the highest bidder."

Hasson's high bidder turned out to be John Fryar, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

His job includes posing as an eBay buyer to enforce federal laws that protect archeological artifacts and the human remains of Native Hawaiians by prohibiting their interstate sale.

Members of a Native Hawaiian organization, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei (Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawaii), alerted Fryar to the ad and told him they found it deeply offensive.

Over the next three days, Fryar communicated with Hasson by telephone and e-mail, eventually winning the auction for $2,500. But Hasson knew such a sale was illegal, Fryar said. To "cover it up," Fryar agreed to bid the same $2,500 for another item -- a 1966 Fanzine comic book worth $50 -- and Hasson would "gift" him the skull, Fryar wrote in his affidavit.

The FBI contacted Fraser Heston, who recalled finding a skeleton as a teenager in Hawaii but reportedly said he had never heard of Hasson, according to Fryar's affidavit.

After Hasson mailed the skull to a New Mexico address, it was examined by a University of Hawaii anthropologist who confirmed the remains to be those of a Polynesian woman who died at about age 50.

Hasson is expected to be arraigned within two weeks.

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