Sunday, February 9, 2003

Amnesty for returning shuttle debris ends

At least 9 could face charges

The Associated Press

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - A three-day amnesty period to turn over looted shuttle debris brought in hundreds of pieces of the shattered Columbia, but officials said Saturday that people are still illegally hoarding the debris and at least nine could soon face charges.

"We're down to nine investigative complaints turned over to a U.S. attorney in Lufkin," Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss said Saturday.

Sheriffs in other counties said they had received tips about possible looting as well.

Federal authorities offered the amnesty period Wednesday after arresting two people, accused of taking a circuit board and a piece of thermal insulating fabric, and leading both into the courthouse in handcuffs in view of photographers and TV camera crews.

Both pleaded innocent to charges of stealing government property and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Their trials are set for April.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Orwig said the response to the amnesty had been overwhelming, with hundreds of pieces turned in since it began Wednesday. Federal prosecutors said anyone found with shuttle debris after Friday would face prosecution.

In Nacogdoches County, 35 people turned in 117 pieces of debris under the program, Kerss said. He said his county also had a list of names from tips by residents of people who could still have debris.

"We will have some search teams begin visiting flea markets," Kerss said.

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