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Dealer in shells sentenced for sale of artifacts

Inglis resident and shell dealer Charles A. Jury has been sentenced to six months in prison and $24,000 in fines and court costs for his conviction on charges stemming from the sale of artifacts illegally excavated from an American Indian burial mound.

Jury, 51, the owner of Sea Forest, a wholesale and retail shop on U.S. 19 in Crystal River, was investigated last year by the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Law Enforcement and was arrested on one count of misdemeanor theft, one felony count of dealing in stolen property and one felony count of criminal conspiracy.

He was convicted of the charges in September and sentenced in Lee County Court on Nov. 2.

"(This) sentencing is a victory for the citizens of Florida," said Thomas S. Tramel III, director of the Division of Law Enforcement. "Mr. Jury's conviction and sentencing should send a strong message to anyone who willfully disturbs or destroys our state's natural resources, especially for profit. These crimes will not be tolerated."

In addition to the prison time, Jury also received two years of community control and an additional three years of probation. He was fined $10,000, the maximum allowable for his crimes, and was ordered to pay thousands more in restitution for the investigative costs and for court costs, according to a news release from the DEP.

The artifact shells that were the object of the investigation had come from a state archaeological site on Josslyn Island near Fort Myers. Jury had agreed to pay a fisherman $14,000 for 200,000 shells found at the site, which was once inhabited by Calusa Indians and possibly served as a prehistoric settlement.

Prosecutors said that Jury planned to sell the shells to Hindus, who consider the shells to be religious artifacts, for thousands of dollars more than he paid.

The plan was foiled when a relative of one of the two teenage helpers the fisherman took to the archaeological site learned of the plot and reported it to state officials. Park police caught the crew on the island with hundreds of shells they had dug up. They confessed and worked with the state to help catch Jury.

Jury also lost his license to deal in shells.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.