Utah Authorities Have Charged Four People for Allegedly Stealing $1 Million Worth of Dinosaur Bones

The illegal shipments were bound for China, allegedly marked as “industrial stone” and “landscape rock."

A multiagency investigation unearths over $1 million worth of dinosaur bones allegedly stolen from Utah and shipped to China for profit. Photo courtesy of HSI Tucson

Four people have indicted by a federal grand jury in Utah and charged with stealing $1 million worth of dinosaur bones to sell to China for a profit, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revealed last month.

The grand jury in Salt Lake City returned the 13-count indictment after a probe by Homeland Security Investigations with the FBI, local sheriff’s offices, and the Bureau of Land Management, federal officials said in a news release.

Vint and Donna Wade, the owners of Wade’s Wood and Rocks in Moab, were accused along with Steven Willing of Los Angeles and Jordan Willing of Ashland, Oregon, of a conspiracy to export 150,000 pounds of dinosaur bones in violation of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, enacted in 2009. The law prohibits the unpermitted excavation or removal of fossilized remains and imprints from federal land, with view exceptions for casual collecting.

In the indictment, authorities said such Jurassic period fossils are found over wide areas of the Morrison Formation in southeastern Utah surrounding Moab on lands managed by the BLM.

“Morrison Formation is unique because it is one of the few formations that contains the fossilized remains of plants and dinosaurs including Allosaurus and Stegosaurus,” the indictment reads. “About 95 percent of Morrison Formation in the state of Utah is located on public lands.”

The Wades allegedly acted as middlemen, acquiring the dinosaur bones from unindicted co-conspirators who had removed them from federal land beginning in March 2018. Investigators called their actions a “typical execution of the conspiracy” as they paid by cash and check for the dinosaur bones. It was not immediately clear why the co-conspirators were not charged, but the HSI news release indicates they “removed the dinosaur bones for the Wades’ personal use.”

According to prosecutors, the Wades allegedly knew the bones came from federal land yet sold them to the Willings—conspiring to export them to China through their company JMW Sales.

In at least one invoice the Wades sent to JMW Sales, they sought to be paid for “jasper and wood” when the true shipment were paleontological resources. That shipment, made from Scottsdale in Arizona, was held up in China after high radiation levels were detected.

Other shipments were allegedly marked “industrial stone” and “landscape rock” or even “turquoise,” without disclosing the valuable paleontological resources inside.

Together, the group conspired to mislabel the dinosaur bones and “vastly” deflate their value “so government agents would not suspect the shipments contained illegally obtained, sold, and transported paleontological resources,” the indictment reads.

Additionally, the indictment said the group caused more than $3 million in damages, which includes the “commercial value of the resource, scientific value of the resource, and the cost of restoration and repair.”

All defendants are charged with conspiracy against the United States, violations of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, theft of property of the United States, and other charges.


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