SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah businessman who worked a two-year sting operation for federal officials investigating looting of American Indian relics across the Southwest has died of a self-inflicted gunshot after a brief standoff with police.
It appears to be the third suicide connected to the case.
Ted Dan Gardiner, an antiquities dealer and former grocery store CEO, shot himself Monday in his bedroom in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, police said.
Gardiner, 52, was the government's lone operator in a sweeping federal investigation that led to felony charges against 26 people in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico on charges of trafficking in artifacts.
Gardiner's father and his son told The Associated Press on Tuesday they didn't know why he killed himself. Federal authorities declined comment.
The trouble began Saturday, when Gardiner's roommates called police to say he was suicidal. Officers confiscated a handgun from Gardiner and he was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. His father picked him up Sunday morning.
"He seemed OK," Dan Gardiner, 89, said.
By Monday evening, however, friends and the two roommates called authorities again after gunshots rang out in Gardner's bedroom. An officer confronted Gardiner, who refused to drop his gun. The officer felt threatened enough to fire a round at Gardiner, but the shot didn't hit him, Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson said.
The officer backed off and called a SWAT team. Gardiner was found dead in his bedroom of a single gunshot 15 minutes later. The gun Gardiner used Monday was different from the one officers took on Saturday, authorities said.
Two defendants – a Santa Fe, N.M., salesman and a prominent Blanding, Utah, physician, James Redd – committed suicide after their arrests in June.
Gardiner offered in 2006 to help federal authorities set up what turned into a long-running sting operation in the black-market trade in prehistoric relics. Court papers said he was typically paid $7,500 a month for secretly recording transactions across the Southwest for more than two years.
Gardiner provided prosecutors with hundreds of hours of video showing suspects admitting they took artifacts from federal and tribal lands, according to court documents.
The case broke open in June when about 150 federal agents descended on the Four Corners region. In the small town of Blanding, Utah, agents raided homes of 16 people, including a math teacher and brother of the local sheriff. Most were handcuffed and shackled as agents confiscated stone pipes, woven sandals, spear and arrow heads, seed jars and decorated pottery.
The arrests prompted outcry from southern Utah residents – many claiming federal officials were heavy-handed. One man served a year in federal prison for threatening to track Gardiner down and beat him with a baseball bat.
Two of the 26 defendants – Redd's wife and daughter – pleaded guilty last year. The rest pleaded not guilty.
Gardiner was still being paid for helping agents prepare for court cases, and he was to receive more money if he had testified. Gardiner had received $162,000 in payments plus expenses, for a total of $224,000, when most of the arrests were made in June.
Federal authorities and Gardiner, who also ran an artifact authentication business, have insisted he was never in trouble with the law.
Ted Gardiner ran his father's business, Dan's Foods Inc., for a decade before selling the grocery chain to another company in 2000. The sale brought the family millions of dollars, but Ted Gardiner also had financial problems.
In 2007, he was dunned for more than $400,000 by federal and state tax authorities, according to public records. Gardiner, who spoke to the AP in a series of interviews last summer, said the debt was mostly a result of the proceeds he received from the sale of a Dan's Foods building in Park City.
Federal agents and the U.S. attorney's office refused to confirm that the Ted Gardiner who died Monday was the same Ted Gardiner who worked the artifacts case. He shared the same name, date of birth and address of the man identified in court documents as the government's informant.
"We have never talked about the source. No comment," said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Salt Lake City.