Former postman pleads not guilty to destroying artifacts 7-07

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - A Postal Service driver destroyed American Indian artifacts when he tried to cover up damage to a package by burning it, according to a federal indictment.

Donald Ring III, 36, said he did not know the origin or significance of the Iroquois artifacts, which included two sacred masks from the 1830s meant to be repatriated from England.

Ring pleaded not guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to theft of mail, a felony, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Eurenius. He was released on his own recognizance.

Ring, who no longer works for the Postal Service, is accused of burning the package Dec. 29 after it was crushed and torn by loose equipment in his truck. Ring told investigators that he was afraid of losing his job, so he destroyed the package in his backyard, a judge said at his arraignment.

The package contained two "false face" masks and eight beaded picture frames, some holding antique photos, according to the U.S. attorney's office. The masks are used in healing ceremonies and are not meant for public display, said Tony Gonyea, a member of the Onondaga Nation.

They were "most likely considered priceless," Eurenius said.