A Sting in the Desert

22 Sep 2014 4:29 PM | Anonymous

A Sting in the Desert

By Joe Mozingo

Photography, video by Katie Falkenberg

For generations, the people of the Four Corners region have battled the federal government over collecting and selling Native American artifacts. Then agents persuaded a local dealer to go undercover.

Operation Cerberus Action was supposed to expose a lucrative trade in stolen antiquities.

Instead, it tore a hole in a Utah town.

In the high country of the Navajo reservation, a family walked through the pinyon pines, combing the earth for the remnants of a vanished civilization.


Their breath steamed in the morning air. Dr. James Redd wandered away from his wife and daughter for a few minutes, then called back: “Hey guys, come and look.”

He pointed to a white shell, smaller than a dime, lying partly exposed in the wind-scoured dirt. It had been carved in the shape of a bird, with a hole drilled through it.

Millions of such artifacts lay strewn across the region. The doctor's wife, Jeannie Redd, reveled in the way the pieces connected her to the ancient Anasazi culture.

Jim handed the shell to Jeannie, who hooked it on a safety pin and put it in her pocket, never imagining the trouble it would bring