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Lack of charges in sacred site damage upsets some

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 12, 2014 at 6:45 pm •  Published: May 12, 2014
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Watchdogs said Monday that they're outraged prosecutors filed no charges against National Park Service officials responsible for $3 million in illegal projects that damaged a sacred American Indian burial ground.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Cedar Rapids declined in 2012 to file civil or criminal charges against employees responsible for a decade of illegal construction at the Effigy Mounds National Monument on the Mississippi River near McGregor, Iowa. The decision became public last week, when the Park Service released its 700-page report on a criminal investigation of the monument's former superintendent Phyllis Ewing and maintenance director Tom Sinclair.

"We gave it careful consideration ... and determined that charges were not warranted," assistant U.S. attorney Pete Deegan said Monday, declining to elaborate.

Tim Mason, a former park ranger whose complaint sparked the investigation, said prosecutors didn't want to "prosecute one of their own, another federal employee."

"If I went up to Effigy Mounds with a shovel and walked across the boardwalk and started digging holes into mounds, I would be tackled, handcuffed, passed over to U.S. marshals and put in a federal holding cell," Mason said. By contrast, he said, monument officials "were rewarded handsomely for doing criminal acts against a sacred site."

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said prosecutors should provide more of an explanation because their inaction "may have had the effect of condoning and perpetuating these flagrant cultural resource offenses."

During Ewing's tenure as superintendent from 1999 to 2010, she and subordinates built boardwalks, trails and a maintenance shed without following federal laws that required consultation with 12 tribes and reviews by state archaeologists before approval, investigation documents show.

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