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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

Man pleads guilty in theft of artifacts

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

The second of two men charged with taking native Hawaiian artifacts from a South Kohala burial cave to sell for profit pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in U.S. District Court yesterday.

John Carta, 45, avoided trial by pleading guilty to conspiring to enter the cave and to actually entering the cave and removing objects in violation of the federal Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, which protects the artifacts and burial sites.

He faces up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine, one year of probation and a $25 special assessment.

Carta is to be sentenced Sept. 8 at 10 a.m. by U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren.

Dressed in a white with blue-and-green print aloha shirt, Carta stared straight ahead and answered, "yes sir" as U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang asked questions.

"I'm guilty," said Carta, after he was asked to enter a plea. "I took an individual, showed him where a cave was and we removed the items."

Carta's attorney, Rustam Barbee, said outside of court that Carta cooperated with authorities at all times during the investigation.

"He knew he was doing something he shouldn't be and he feels very remorseful about it," he said.

Carta's cohort in the crime, Daniel W. Taylor, 39, was the first person to be convicted here under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.

He pleaded guilty March 24 to conspiring with Carta to take the artifacts from the Kanupa Cave in June 2004.

According to documents filed at the time of Taylor's plea, the pair agreed on June 16, 2004, to look for the cave with the understanding that they would sell any artifacts for a profit.

They got directions from an individual identified only as M.F. the next day and found Kanupa Cave, the document said. They pushed aside a rock at the cave's entrance and discovered items wrapped in woven lauhala and black cloth, according to the document.

They unwrapped the items, which they determined to be artifacts that included wooden bowls, a gourd, a holua sled runner, a spear, kapa and cordage, Taylor said. Some artifacts had labels indicating they belonged to the J.S. Emerson Collection.

The artifacts known as the Emerson Collection were taken from the cave in the late 1800s and sold to museums, including the Bishop Museum. They were reburied in the cave in 2003.

Barbee said Carta received $200 and an old car.

Taylor admitted that on the day after the break-in, he tried to sell a palaoa, or whale-tooth pendant, for $40,000. He said they sold a piece of kapa to a tourist for $150 later that month. The following month, they sold a fisherman's bowl and its cover to a collector for $2,083, he said.

Federal authorities said 157 items were recovered. The only one missing is the piece of kapa bark cloth, also known as tapa.

The artifacts will be returned and it will be up to the Native Hawaiian community to determine what should be done with them.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.