A 70-year-old man has been indicted on 11 criminal counts related to the pillaging of Native American artifacts on federal land known as the Tightwad Site at Harry S. Truman Lake in Missouri.
Johnny Lee Brown of Clinton, Mo., is accused of digging up pottery, weapons, projectiles, tools and other items, causing more than $300,000 in damages, a value determined by an Osage Nation archeologist, who told prosecutors that the conspiracy greatly impacts the cultural history of the Osage Nation and related tribes.
According to an indictment unsealed June 12 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Brown and other co-conspirators “known and unknown” to investigators used trowels and shovels to remove artifacts and deface property starting in June 2016 and continuing through April of 2020. They also used a metal detector on at least one occasion, according to the indictment.
The Tightwad Site is located high on a peninsula on Truman Lake. It was a campsite and/or stone-processing site dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years and the artifacts are densely concentrated from the surface to about 15 inches deep.
The indictment specifies the exact dates and times during which the site was plundered and the value of what was taken during each visit to the site.
Brown is charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of excavating and defacing archeological resources, and four counts of depredation of government property. The maximum cumulative sentence he faces would be 17 years, although federal sentencing guidelines based on his cooperation, past record and other factors will ultimately decide that should he be found guilty.
A review of Missouri court records shows that Brown has been cited for such infractions as littering but no serious crimes.
He was assigned a federal public defender on the day the indictment was unsealed. The grand jury issued the indictment on April 26 but it was kept secret until Brown was arrested.