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eBay Hawaiian skull vendor avoids jail

Community service, $10k fine plus apology

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A California man who attempted to sell a 200-year-old Hawaiian skull on eBay has avoided jail on a federal rap and will instead do 600 hours community service, pay a $10,000 fine to the "victims" of the crime and issue an apology to Hawaii's citizens in three newspapers.

Jerry David Hasson, 55, was charged in September on a single count of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Our report at the time gave the bizarre background to Hasson's crime and subsequent arrest.

In February 2004, Hasson placed the skull of "200 year-old warrior [who] died on Maui in the 1790s" up for auction on eBay, with bidding starting at $1,000 and an immediate purchase price of $12,500, according to prosecutors. In his eBay auction, Hasson said he took the skull as a souvenir from a guarded excavation site at Kaanapali Beach, Maui in 1969. He claimed the skull and other skeletal remains on beach were those of Hawaiian warriors who fought with or against Hawaii's legendary King Kamehameha.

The auction reached the attention of a member of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai’i Nei (Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawaii). A member of the organisation warned Hasson that selling the skull was a violation of federal law. The "tomb raider" was told to abandon the sale and return it to the native Hawaiian organisation for ceremonial reburial. Hasson unwisely ignored this advice.

Later an undercover agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs contacted Hasson and negotiated purchase of the skull. During negotiations leading up to the sale Hasson revealed that he realised that selling an antiquity might be illegal, so he arranged a roundabout way of flogging the item. The agent was given the skull as a "gift" after purchasing a collector's edition of a comic book (worth approximately $20) for $2,500.

Hasson's account of the find, as reported in an affidavit by the undercover investigator, makes for fascinating reading. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reports that Hasson claimed to the investigator that he evaded guards and sneaked into the site one night with some friends. There he dug into the sand and found part of a leg before continuing his excavation and finding the skull.

The skull was later found to belong to a woman of around 50 years of age.

Under his plea bargain, Hasson will pay $10,000 to Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai’i Nei. He is due to enter his guilty plea in US District Court next week.

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