Board of Directors


John Lefgren – President

Dr John Lefgren from Pennsylvania is originally from Ogden Utah. After attending Weber State College John served a 2 1/2 year church mission to Finland and then studied at the University of Utah. John Lefgren is an Economic Historian and did his doctorate dissertation work in Helsinki. He worked six years in the American Embassy in Helsinki and he is fluent in Finnish. In 1980 John wrote an influential book titled April 6 about the birthdate of Christ and founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later John teamed up with John P Pratt to validate the date of the First Vision as March 26, 1820. John founded Heartland Research Inc in 2019.


Mike LaFontaine – Vice President

Mike LaFontaine is part Chippewa from the Turtle Mountain clan. Professionally, Mike is a builder and real estate developer from NE/Central Florida. He grew up in Florida but his family originally comes from the Minnesota Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Mike and Betty have five children plus adopted children and also 26 grandchildren. Mike and Betty are popular and well known public speakers, advocates of indigenous peoples and avid supporters of Heartland projects. Mike has a leading role in the reconstruction of the Phoenicia ship and in the ongoing research of ancient people in the Heartland of America.


Betty LaFontaine – Cultural Advisor

Betty Red-Ant LaFontaine, is from the Navajo tribe of the Dene Tha’ nation and originally from the four corners area in northwest New Mexico. She came from a challenging background of poverty on the reservation but was in the Indian placement program in Utah for eight years which opened many opportunities for her. Betty comes from a strong native family tradition of belief in the Book of Mormon, prayer, and Navajo traditions which teach that their ancestors came from the east and from across the great salt sea. Bettys role is to be a liaison to the public, help organize events and keep the team on-task and unified with our cultural and spiritual goals.


Mike Stahlman – Chief Engineer

Mike Stahlman, originally from Pennsylvania has lived for 33 years in Independance Missouri, the center place of Zion. He has an unshakable belief and faith in the Book of Mormon. A former RLDS member, he is now a follower of independant restorationist branches (South Crysler Restoration). Mike has assisted the Heartland Research Group in several expeditions and has been extremely helpful in proactive and clever ways. His professional background is in engineering and construction including timber frame construction. An excellent puzzle solver and craftsman, Mike Stahlman is the Chief Engineer of the Phoenicia ship reconstruction project.


Jeri Mackley – Secretary

Jeri Mackley is an entrepreneur and business woman with fourteen years of experience in owning and running a family fun center including an extensive Halloween haunt attraction. She knows how to work with the public and manage large groups of people and complex projects. Jeri is a strong promoter of the Book of Mormon and the Heartland model and has helped organize events for the Heartland Research Group, hosting activities in her home in Fort Madison, Iowa. Jeri and Jay are devout Latter-day Saints and advocates of the Book of Mormon. They also have a home in Oregon and have five adult children.


Jay Mackley – Treasurer

Jay Mackley is a graduate of BYU with a degree in Computer Science and served an LDS mission in French speaking Canada. He is the author of the Zarahemla Centric Heartland Model of Book of Mormon geography which employs computer data analytics for validation and discovery. Jay is a computer consultant and software engineer recently retired in 2022 so he can pursue Heartland studies and research. With the ArcGIS and QGis LiDAR visualization programs he has discovered ten miles of extensive earthworks in Zarahemla that are being researched as the foundations for the ancient walls of Zarahemla.


Yuri Sanada – Explorer and Cinematographer

Yuri Sanada, from Brazil, is a writer, director, producer, cinematographer, author of several books, and a TV host. He has several international awards including 2 LumiƩre from the Hollywood Advanced Imaging Society. A navigator and explorer, Yuri was a crew member with Captain Philip Beale on the historic Phoenicia voyage to America and he is a Fellow Member of the exclusive New York Explorers Club. With his wife Vera, Yuri is an international speaker and environmental activist. His production company has been producing TV streaming series and feature films, including the first Brazilian Imax film.


Captain Philip Beale – Explorer and Sailor

Philip Beale is from the United Kingdom near Dorset. Always interested from his youth in sailing ships and the Age of Discovery, he joined the Royal Navy as a officer for three years before making his historic voyages. He has replicated three ancient sea voyages to international acclaim: 1) Indonesia to West Africa; 2) Circumnavigation of Africa in the Phoenicia; and then finally 3) Crossing the Atlantic in the Phoenicia from Carthage to Florida. Philip Beale is the author of the books Sailing Close to the Wind and Atlantic BC which recount his journey around Africa and then his Atlantic voyage to America. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and member of the Scientific Exploration Society.


Keith W Merrell – Film Maker

Keith Merrell is a film director and producer. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He received an Academy Award for The Great American Cowboy (1973) and a nomination for Amazon (1997). As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served as a missionary for the church in Denmark for two-and-a-half years. Keith Merrill was commissioned by the LDS Church’s First Presidency to produce the films Legacy and The Testaments for the 70 mm Legacy Theater at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. He has been married to Dagny Johnson since February 3, 1964. They have eight children.


Rod L Meldrum – Author and Lecturer

Rod Meldrum is a researcher, author, national lecturer, President of the Firm Foundation and has spoken to many thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on his findings in support of the Book of Mormon. He served as senior scientific researcher for seven years on the science book, The Universal Model. He was President and CEO of High Country Gourmet, Inc., and was Director of Business Development for Interact Medical. Rod Meldrum is the producer of the DVDs DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography and Book of Mormon Evidence. He is coauthor of the book Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America and author of the book Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant.


2 thoughts on “Board of Directors”

  1. I love the information the Heartland Research Group publishes in the emails I receive. I was, yesterday, discussing with the sister missionaries in our small branch in Somerset KY that there was this group doing scientific research that proves the truthfulness of the ancient peoples the Book of Mormon on the American continent. And, perhaps more especially, North America. So many members are drawn to the idea that the Book of Mormon people were based out of South America. I have always believed it was more North America. I am grateful for the work this team is doing. I look forward, eagerly, for more. I long to be able to bring my family north for a summer break to put our own hands to work in helping the restoration of that great ship!

  2. Thank you so much for your comments! We have many plans in store for research and for displaying the Phoenicia ship. We have had many visitors to see the ship restoration progress and we welcome you to come. We’ll be starting up again full time in the spring.

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HRG History — by Jay Mackley
HISTORY AND MISSION STATEMENT OF THE

The Heartland Research Group is a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground organization that believes that the historical narrative of the Book of Mormon took place in the Heartland of North America. The HRG is active in archaeological research and in the acquisition, restoration and display of ancient American artifacts. The HRG is currently preparing an ancient ship replica called the "Phoenicia" for display. The ships construction design is patterned after a shipwreck dating to 600 BC. The Phoenicia ship made modern voyages, first around Africa and then also from the Middle East to Florida in 2019 – proving that voyages around Africa or from Sidon to North America were feasible anciently.

Heartland Research Inc is a 501c3 private operating foundation for archaeological research and to complete preparations for the Phoenicia display. Current plans are for a museum large enough to house the Phoenicia ship and many other ancient artifacts and exhibits from North America. The location of the museum is planned to be in Zarahemla which is Lee County Iowa, near the Mississippi river and east of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Our activities are too many to list, but some recent major expeditions are listed below. Many of these expeditions are open-ended and we expect to continue research in these and other similar activities as time, resources, and volunteers become available. We have dozens of volunteers and hundreds of donors, large and small, but we need many more. Check out the websites listed below for details of Heartland Research Group projects. Our current project is is our biggest yet: to refurbish the Phoenicia ship for display.


Go to the Donation Page


We invite you to support our efforts so we can complete these worthy goals!
If you have skills or knowledge to contribute to our research and discovery projects, please contact us directly to volunteer.


  • What: Sonar scanning of Mississippi between Nauvoo and Keokuk. The purpose of the expedition was to discover a crossing route that ancient people could have taken.
  • Who: Heartland Research Inc volunteers.
  • Where: Between Keokuk and Nauvoo, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: Magnetic scanning of 221 acres of farmland near Montrose, Iowa. The purpose of the expedition was the discovery of fire-pits and other evidence of ancient occupation.
  • Who: Members of the Heartland Research Inc, local farmers, volunteers, plus technicians from German company SYNSYS. Signs of habitation were found with magnetometery scanning and then C14 dating.
  • Where: Near Montrose Iowa and between Montrose and Fort Madison Iowa.
  • How: Large and small donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: A one week seminar in Fort Madison, Iowa with 25+ participants. Included visits to the Putnam museum in Davenport, Iowa. There were twelve presentations on the ancient history and written languages of the upper Mississippi.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus presenters and interested attendees.
  • Where: Fort Madison, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations for space, time and lodging.

  • What: Ground penetrating electrical resistivity scanning for building foundations using electrical resistivity equipment from LandVisor.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc and volunteers.
  • Where: Zarahemla in Lee County, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations and ground support.

  • What: Metal analysis for alloy content. Ancient arrow and spearhead found in Wisconsin stream of cast bronze.
  • Who: Heartland Research Group
  • Where: Sample found in Wisconsin stream by scuba diver.
  • How: Private donations for lab analysis.

  • What: High resolution LiDAR scanning by supporter Air Data Solutions of 34,000 acres in Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois. The focus was to create high quality digital maps showing the terrain of the land, especially in the foothill areas where large earthworks are found. Discovery of 5-10 miles of ancient earthworks from LiDAR using QGIS and ArcGIS visualization software.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus AirData Solutions Inc.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois, covering the much of Nauvoo.
  • How: Private donations for services, data processing, and analysis.

  • What: Commence process of restoring the world's oldest ship replica from 600BC, which has circumnavigated Africa and crossed the Atlantic ocean from the Middle East to America.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus volunteers.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa between Montrose and Fort Madison.
  • How: Private donations for materials, space, and equipment plus donations in labor.

Mission Statement

The Heartland Research Group researches archaeological evidence of the ancient civilizations of America.
Heartland Research Group activities include:

  • Field Research
    Uses archeological techniques and scanning technologies to reveal the remains of ancient civilizations.
  • Ancient Artifacts
    Encourages and facilitate study of ancient North American artifacts, including tablets, tools, weapons, metal works, and other items.
  • Geography
    Research and develop maps, using scanning technologies and other means, to identify the locations and activities of ancient civilizations.
  • Linguistics
    Analyze and translate ancient writings found in North America, especially those relating to other civilizations world wide.
  • Preservation and Display
    Collect, restore, preserve, catalog and exhibit ancient artifacts and replicas, and make them readily available to researchers and viewable to the public.
  • Archaeology, Geology, and History
    Study and research into all aspects archaeology, geology, and history that shed light on ancient North American peoples and cultures.
  • Promotion and Support
    Raise awareness of our activities. Work directly with and support individuals and groups in activities that share our same goals.
The Heartland Research Group welcomes researchers and interested parties of all backgrounds to share their analysis and findings of ancient American heartland civilizations.

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