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The Raid, Santa Cruz Island, Monday, January 13, 1997

In the News~

January 16, 1997 [LAT]: “ Descending in a military helicopter, about 20 heavily armed federal agents and Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies raided a Santa Cruz Island hunting ranch and arrested three workers on suspicion of crimes including destruction of Chumash grave sites and stealing human remains, officials said Wednesday. The airborne assault on the 6,200-acre Gherini family ranch, the last privately owned land in the Channel Islands National Park, occurred about midday Tuesday and concluded a two-year undercover investigation during which National Park Service agents posted as hunters, officials said. While no one was injured during the raids, the amount of force used to serve the search and arrest warrants on two hunting camps prompted criticism from hunters and a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Santa Cruz Island Foundation. Crystal Graybeel, a 15-year-old sheep hunter who had slept in Tuesday, said officers wearing ski masks burst into her room carrying machine guns in the late morning. "They started screaming, 'Put your hands where we can see them.' They unzipped my sleeping bag and I had to get face down on the floor and they handcuffed me." Officials with both the Park Service and the Sheriff's Department said no unusual force was used, and that agents had to be prepared for anything, because the arrests were made at a hunting camp where people were armed. "When you're arresting people for committing crimes, you're not involved in a Boy Scout exercise," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Darryl Perlin, the Santa BArbara County prosecutor overseeing the case. The criminal investigation began in January 1995 after a CHumash leader complained of "grave robbing" on Santa Cruz Island, according to the Park SErvice. Former employees of Island ADventures, the ranch's hunting concessionaire, reportedly substantiated the claims. "It's important that those who would destroy the fabric of our nation's history, especially destroying ancient Chumash Indian burials, be acutely aware that the National Park Service is determined to protect these resources," Tim J. Setnicka, acting superintendent for Channel Islands National Park, said in a press release. Three ranch workers—volunteer Rick Berg and caretakers Dave Mills and Brian Krantz—were released from Santa Barbara County Jail Tuesday night after posting bail. Krantz, 33, is suspected of felony destruction of a Chumash grave site, removal of human remains and lesser offenses of guiding and serving food without permits. Mills, 34, and Berg, 35, of Saratoga, face only misdemeanor charges, all relating to illegal guising or food distribution, except for a possible charge against Mills of damaging an object of archaeological interest. All three suspects said in interviews that they had done nothing wrong and were themselves victims. "They're calling me a grave robber, and that is complete fabrication," said Krantz, a former Santa Barbara resident who is caretaker of one of two hunting centers, Smuggler's Cove. Mills, caretaker of a second hunting center called Scorpion Ranch three miles away, said he was charged because federal officials wanted to hurt his boss, Island Adventures owner Jaret Owens. Park Service spokeswoman Carol J. Spears said charges are being considered against Owens, 47, whose Ojai house was searched Wednesday. The Santa Barbara County district attorney's office is reviewing whether he violated state business regulations designed to protect natural resources, she said. There is evidence of destruction and theft of Santa Cruz Island artifacts dating back to the 1980s, she added. But Owens, the island's concessionaire for 12 years, derided the raid as government overkill, a waste of taxpayers money and part of a Park Service effort to seize the Gherini Ranch and close down the hunting operation."They're still in my house right now, raising hell," Owens said Wednesday evening. "These people are totally out of control." The arrests occurred as the National Park Service is seizing the Gherini Ranch by order of Congress. On Feb. 10, the government is scheduled to close down Owens' lucrative hunting and camping operation. They will seize Oxnard attorney Francis Gherini's ownership interest in the ranch, which comprises the eastern 10% of the 25-mile-long island off the Santa Barbara coast. The federal government already owns 75% of the ranch, having purchased shares from other members of the Gherini family. After years of fruitless debate over the value of Francis Gherini's interest, Congress decided to take the property.”