Mono County doctor pleads guilty to looting Native American artifacts from public lands

A Mono County doctor pleaded guilty Monday to two felony counts connected to the looting of Native American artifacts from public lands, including Death Valley National Park.

Jonathan Bourne, 59, an anesthesiologist at Mammoth Hospital, also agreed to pay $249,372 to cover the costs of curating and storing about 20,000 relics that federal agents found in his home overlooking the High Sierra community of Mammoth Lakes, U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert said.

The case stems from a yearlong investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that was launched after photos of Bourne digging a wooden bow out of a melting glacier in the High Sierra appeared on a hiking club website. Wooden splinters recovered at the glacier by federal archaeologists matched the bow in Bourne’s possession, officials said.

As part of his plea deal, Bourne will not be allowed on public lands administered by any of the four federal agencies; the period of the ban will be imposed Nov. 7 during sentencing in U.S. District Court in Fresno. 

The Mammoth Mountain downhill and cross-country ski areas will also be considered off-limits, Talbert said.

Public lands within a one-mile radius of Bourne’s home were excluded so that he could attend to personal responsibilities including commuting to work and walking his dog, authorities said. However, the amateur botanist will not be allowed to collect mushrooms and other flora and fauna from any public lands.

In an earlier interview, Bourne declined to comment other than to say: "The blog has gotten me in trouble with the authorities. The bow in question has gotten me in trouble as well. It might have legal consequences."

A federal grand jury in 2015 charged Bourne with eight counts of unlawful transportation of archaeological resources removed from public lands; six counts of unauthorized excavation, removal, damage or defacement of archaeological resources removed from public lands; six counts of injury or depredation to government property; and one count of possession of stolen government property.

If convicted of all counts, Bourne would have faced up to 50 years in prison, according to the indictment. He also would have faced forfeiture of all vehicles and equipment used in connection with the violations.

Under the plea agreement, Bourne admitted to unlawfully removing glass trade beads in 2010 from a prehistoric cremation and burial site in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. A year later, he unlawfully altered a prehistoric site in Death Valley National Park by removing a tool made from a bighorn sheep horn and three etched stone tablets considered sacred to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.

Bourne faces a maximum statutory penalty of two years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each of the two felony counts. However, “the government has agreed not to request any time in custody for Mr. Bourne,” Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said.

Louis.Sahagun@latimes.com

Twitter: @LouisSahagun

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