Stolen shipwreck artifacts recovered

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Stolen shipwreck artifacts recovered
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August 3, 2004

State conservation officers recently announced the successful prosecution of a Cheboygan County man accused of stealing artifacts from Great Lakes shipwrecks.

Robert Allen Lemmer, 53, of Cheboygan, pled guilty to stealing the beam from the Straits Underwater Preserve Shipwreck of the “William H. Barnum,” and 89th District Court Judge Harold Johnson recently ordered Lemmer to pay $4,650 in court costs, fines and restitution.

Michigan DNR conservation officers were tipped about the theft early this year. The subsequent investigation revealed that Lemmer and a friend in 2001 used scuba gear and an airbag system to bring the Barnum’s beam to the surface, then secured it to Lemmer’s 25-foot Sea Ray boat and towed it to his Cheboygan County lakefront home. It was intended for use as a fireplace mantel.

Michigan law prohibits the recovery, alteration, or destruction of shipwrecks or items related to shipwrecks in Michigan’s Great Lakes waters, including shipwrecks in the state’s Underwater Preserves.

Conservation Officers John Morey and Andrea Erratt led the investigation, with assistance from law enforcement officers throughout Michigan, and a marine archeologist from the state Department of History, Arts and Libraries. They learned Lemmer is a diver who has been collecting articles from the bottomlands for over 20 years. A search warrant executed at Lemmer’s home uncovered artifacts from the Straits Area Underwater Preserve shipwreck of the “Sandusky.” These artifacts were taken in the 1980s, and the statute of limitations prevented charges for those thefts.

Department of History, Arts and Libraries specialists said because the artifacts were improperly preserved, they cannot be returned to the water.

Morey said shipwreck antiquity thefts are difficult criminal cases to develop and prosecute, and most begin with tips from the public. Anyone with information regarding the theft of underwater antiquities is asked to contact the Michigan DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at 1-800-292-7800.
 

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