HSI Tucson, multiagency investigation unearths over $1M worth of dinosaur bones allegedly stolen from Utah, shipped to China for profit
TUCSON, Ariz. — A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City returned a 13-count indictment charging four people for allegedly purchasing and selling over $1M in paleontological resources. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Land Management’s Monticello Field Office, the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office, the Grand County Sheriff and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the case.
According to court documents, Vint Wade, 65, and Donna Wade, 67, of Moab, Utah; Steven Willing, 67, of Los Angeles, California; and Jordan Willing, 40 of Ashland, Oregon, committed several felony offenses against the United States by violating the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. The dollar amount represents 150,000 pounds of paleontological resources, including dinosaur bones, that were illegally removed from federal and state lands in southeastern Utah.
Between March 2018 and continuing until at least March 2023, the defendants allegedly purchased, transported and exported dinosaur bones from federal land. The defendants further illegally conspired by knowingly concealing and retaining 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. Those individuals removed the dinosaur bones for the Wades’ personal use. The Wades stockpiled paleontological resources to sell to national vendors at gem and mineral shows, including the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, 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 them and deflating their value to avoid detection by federal agents.
In addition to selling over $1 million in paleontological resources, the defendants caused over $3 million in damages, which includes the resources’ commercial and scientific values and the cost of restoration and repair. According to the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, paleontological resources mean 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.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Trina A. Higgins. “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.”
All defendants are charged with conspiracy against the United States; Paleontological Resources Preservation Act violations; theft of property of the United States and other charges as alleged in the indictment. The defendants are scheduled for their initial court appearance on the indictment on Oct. 19, at 3:00 p.m. in courtroom 8.4 before a U.S. magistrate judge at the Orrin G. Hatch U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City.
“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 the Bureau of Land Management’s Utah State Director Gregory Sheehan. “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 Bureau of Land Management should be greatly commended in dismantling the illegal trade of paleontology artifacts here in our community,” said Grand County Sheriff Jamison Wiggins.
The District of Utah is prosecuting the case as an environmental crime.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.