4 people accused of stealing $1M of dinosaur bones, exporting them to China
About 150,000 pounds of paleontological resources were illegally removed from federal and state lands in southeastern Utah, according to the D.A’s office
Two Utahns, an Oregon man and a California man have been accused of stealing more than $1 million worth of paleontological resources and selling some illegally to buyers in China.
A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City indicted Vint Wade, 65, and Donna Wade, 67, of Moab; Steven Willing, 67, of Los Angeles, California; and Jordan Willing, 40 of Ashland, Oregon, on charges of causing $3 million in damages by stealing more than $1 million in paleontological resources, which included dinosaur bones, from federal land and selling some for profit.
About 150,000 pounds of paleontological resources, including dinosaur bones, were illegally removed from federal and state lands in southeastern Utah, a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Utah said. Prosecutors say between March 2018 and March 2023, the four accused individuals purchased, transported and exported the dinosaur bones, and then conspired to conceal and retain the stolen property.
According to court documents, two "unindicted coconspirators," who are collectors of dinosaur bones, excavated, removed, transported and sold paleontological resources collected from federal lands to the Wades. The Wades are also dinosaur bone collectors and own Wade's Rocks in Moab.
The Wades converted some of the dinosaur bones for their own use to sell at gem and mineral shows, then sold some of the dinosaur bones to the Willings through the Willings' company JMW Sales, the indictment says. Jordan Willing is associated with a foreign corporation, which assists with trafficking dinosaur bones into China, court documents allege.
In total, the Wades sold approximately $1.4 million in paleontological resources to the Willings, equating to about 28,000 pounds of dinosaur bones including "cabs, jewelry, knives, beads and carvings, as well as a list of buyers and contact information for purchasers of two dinosaur spheres," prosecutors allege.
"The parties then exported the dinosaur bones to China, mislabeling the dinosaur bones and vastly deflating their value so government agents would not suspect the shipments contained illegally obtained, sold and transported paleontological resources, each aiding and abetting the other in the same," the indictment says.
"On at least four occasions, the parties shipped containers of dinosaur bones to China to make commercial products including dinosaur dig kits and carved figurines," the indictment says.
The indictment alleges the four individuals caused more than $3 million in damages to the commercial value of the resource, the scientific value of the resource and the cost of restoration and repair.
U.S. District Attorney Trina Higgins said during a press conference Thursday that because the bones were removed from their original location and further processed, it destroyed the bones' scientific value.
"Whatever value we could gain by knowing the location they are at, what other bones were near, the type of soil they were found in — all of that scientific value was lost when they were removed," Higgins said. She said it is a loss to all future hikers on federal lands who would have been able to see the bones in their original location.
"So although dinosaur bones and all of the paleontological resources have a value on some markets, the true loss of removing these items from public lands cannot be monetarily measured. It is invaluable," Higgins said.
These alleged actions violated the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, which protects fossilized remains or traces of organisms found in the earth's crust that provide information on the history of life on Earth. Higgins said it is rare for cases to be charged under the act, and it is especially rare for a violation to have included so many pounds of paleontological resources.
As part of the investigation, agents and scientists tested over 1,000 dinosaur bone samples to prove the bones were found on federal land, according to a detention memo.
Bureau of Land Management special agent Trevis Guy said during the press conference anyone who comes across dinosaur bones or any fossilized remains should leave them there. He said the resources should be documented through a photo and then reported to a BLM ranger or office with the grid coordinates if possible.
"Southeastern Utah is a 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," said BLM Utah state director Gregory Sheehan.
The Wades face charges of conspiracy against the U.S., violating the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, theft of U.S. property, attempted smuggling, providing false export information and money laundering. Donna Wade also is accused of false labeling of paleontological resources and false declaration to federal agents.
The Willings face alleged charges of conspiracy against the U.S., violating the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and theft of U.S. property. Jordan Willing is also accused of false labeling of paleontological resources, attempted smuggling and providing false export information.