Four individuals have been accused of stealing and selling over $1 million worth of dinosaur bones and other fossilized materials illegally taken from federal land in Utah, according to a federal grand jury indictment.
The alleged fossil theft occurred over a five-year period between March 2018 and March 2023. During this time, the defendants allegedly purchased, transported, and exported approximately 150,000 pounds of paleontological resources from protected federal land in southeastern Utah.
The stolen materials consisted primarily of dinosaur bones and other fossilized objects, valued at around $1 million total.
Charged in the indictment are two Utah residents, Vint Wade, 65, and Donna Wade, 67, owners of Wade’s Wood & Rocks in Moab. Also charged are Steven Willing, 67, of Los Angeles, California and Jordan Willing, 40, of Ashland, Oregon.
The indictment alleges that the Wades purchased paleontological resources that were illegally removed from federal land by “known and unknown unindicted individuals.” These individuals allegedly stole the dinosaur bones and delivered them to the Wades for their personal use and profit.
All four defendants face charges of conspiracy, theft of government property, and multiple felony counts of violating the federal Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. This law protects archaeological and paleontological resources on federal lands.
The outcome of the case will be closely watched by both legal and scientific communities concerned about protecting invaluable paleontological resources on public lands from theft and exploitation.
Federal officials praised the multi-agency investigation that led to uncovering the alleged fossil smuggling ring but declined to provide further details at this time. The defendants will stand trial in Utah’s U.S. District Court.
Cover photo courtesy of: David Fulmer