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Over $1 million of dinosaur bones stolen from Utah, shipped to China

Tom Joyce

(The Center Square) - Four people received a 13-count indictment from a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City for allegedly purchasing and selling over $1 million in paleontological resources, including dinosaur bones.

The 150,000 pounds of resources were removed illegally from federal and state lands in southeastern Utah, and some were sold to China, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.

Vint Wade, 65, and Donna Wade, 67, of Moab, Utah; Steven Willing, 67, of Los Angeles, California; and Jordan Willing, 40 of Ashland, Oregon, are the indicted people in this case. They allegedly committed several felony offenses against the United States by violating the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA).

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From March 2018 to March 2023, the four people allegedly purchased, transported, and exported dinosaur bones from federal land. They also allegedly conspired to knowingly conceal and retain stolen property of the United States.

"As charged, in a typical execution of the conspiracy, the Wades purchased paleontological resources removed from federal land by paying cash and checks to known and unknown unindicted individuals," the office explained. "Those individuals removed the dinosaur bones for the Wades’ personal use. The Wades stockpiled paleontological resources to sell at gem and mineral shows to national vendors and to sell some of the illegally obtained paleontological resources to Steven and Jordan Willing. Using their company, JMW Sales, the Willings’ exported the dinosaur bones to China by mislabeling the dinosaur bones and deflating their value to avoid detection by federal agents."

The defendants caused over $3,000,000 in damages when factoring in the commercial value of the stolen resources, their scientific value, plus the cost of restoration and repair, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

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The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) defines paleontological resources as "any fossilized remains, traces, or imprints of organisms, preserved in or on the earth’s crust, that have paleontological interest and provide information about the history of life on earth."

Trina A. Higgins, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, said the thieves ruined the scientific value of the materials, harming future generations.

“By removing and processing these dinosaur bones to make consumer products for profit, tens of thousands of pounds of dinosaur bones have lost virtually all scientific value, leaving future generations unable to experience the science and wonder of these bones on Federal land,” Higgins said. “The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners are dedicated to protecting paleontological resources throughout the State of Utah. We will hold accountable anyone who seeks to engage in similar criminal conduct.”

The defendants all face charges of conspiracy against the United States; Paleontological Resources Preservation Act violation; theft of property of the United States, and more.

“Southeastern Utah is well-known destination for visitors to experience paleontology on the landscape. The public deserves the opportunity to benefit from and appreciate prehistoric resources on the lands,” Bureau of Land Management Utah State Director Gregory Sheehan said. “We are grateful to our team, including technical experts and law enforcement rangers, and the many partner agencies who have committed time and energy to bring closure in this case.”

The investigation of the case is being carried out by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Monticello Field Office and the FBI Salt Lake City Field Office, with help from Grand County Sheriff and San Juan County Sheriff Offices.