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California doctor admits stealing 20K Native artifacts from federal lands

Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park. Photo by Brocken Inaglory

A California man who stole about 20,000 Native artifacts from federal lands in two states pleaded guilty on Monday in connection with two incidents.

Jonathan Bourne, 59, kept "meticulous records" detailing his thefts, according to a plea agreement. He admitted he stole the artifacts -- including burial items -- from sites in California and Nevada starting in 1994 and kept them at his home.

While Bourne has turned over all of the artifacts, he is only pleading guilty for two incidents, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. He removed glass beads from a burial site in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada and removed a tool and three stone tablets from a prehistoric site in Death Valley National Park in California, according to authorities.

The three tablets are considered sacred to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, The Los Angeles Times reported. The tribe is based in Death Valley.

Bourne, who is an anesthesiologist in California, is due to be sentenced on November 7. He is not expected to serve prison time, The Times reported, and has agreed to pay pay $249,372 in restitution.

As part of his plea, Bourne will be banned from entering public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a period that will be determined at sentencing.

According to The Times, federal agencies began investigating after photos of Bourne digging a wooden bow out of a melting glacier were posted on the Bob Burd's California Travels, a hiking enthusiast website. The bow was later found at Bourne's home, the paper reported.

"For most of the next day Jonathan would only say that he had been mistaken about his find and that it turned out only to be a stick, though he couldn't say this without a grin on his face," a post on the site read. "Much later he admitted to extracting the bow in about 45min's time."

Read More on the Story:
Mono County doctor pleads guilty to looting Native American artifacts from public lands (The Los Angeles Times 8/16)
Mono County man pleads guilty to removing thousands of items from public lands (The Sacramento Bee 8/16)
Plea bargain in case of removal of Native American artifacts (AP 8/16)
Thief Pleads Guilty To Stealing Artifacts From Nevada's Public Lands (KUNR 8/16)
Mammoth man guilty of looting 20,000 prehistoric artifacts (The Reno Gazette-Journal 8/17)