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Revenge of the Stolen Dinosaur

Taken from the Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah to Get Back Stolen Dinosaur
Tuesday, September 24, 2002


   Eight years ago, a 150-million-year-old dinosaur fossil was illegally
excavated from federal land near Castle Dale and sold to a California
businessman for $17,000.
    When the new owner of the camptosaurus fossil was told by authorities in
August that the rare artifact had been stolen, he agreed to return the
dinosaur home. Now, federal prosecutors have pledged to turn over the unique
fossil to the Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.
    "There are only a handful of specimens like it in the world," said U.
museum paleontologist Scott Sampson. "If [the fossil] was intact, it would
make a huge impact" on visitors and paleontologists.
    The camptosaurus caper is one of two dinosaur-fossil thefts from federal
land recently resolved by Utah prosecutors. In a separate case, Pennsylvania
businessman Barry James and his wife, April Rhodes-James, have agreed to pay
the U.S. government $50,000 in connection with the heist of an allosaurus
fossil from federal land in Emery County.
    The money, which settles a civil forfeiture suit filed by the U.S.
government, is to be paid in installments over the next five years.
    U.S. Bureau of Land Management regional paleontologist Laurie Bryant
said the $50,000 civil judgment is the largest the United States has ever
recovered in a fossil theft case. The payments will be used by the BLM to
protect other fossil resources.
    "Fossils are the property of the landowner," Bryant said. "On lands
administered by the BLM, rockhounds may collect many kinds of common fossils
for their personal use, but not for sale. However, collecting significant
fossils such as dinosaurs requires a permit, and the fossil can never be
    No criminal or civil charges will be filed in the theft of the
camptosaurus, however, because the two-year legal deadline, or statute of
limitations, has expired. The California collector was unaware the fossil
had been stolen, prosecutors said.
    Whoever excavated the camptosaurus fossil destroyed or damaged many of
the bones and left several others behind, prosecutors said.
    Roaming the earth about 150 million years ago, the camptosaurus was a
two-footed plant-eater that grew to about 23 feet in length and weighed more
than 2,000 pounds.
    The stolen allosaurus, an 85-percent-complete skeleton, was taken from
BLM land in Emery County, about 70 miles southwest of Price. The Jameses'
business, Prehistoric Journeys in Sunbury, Pa., sold the skeleton for
$400,000 to a Japanese collector.
    Federal authorities value the rare complete allosaurus at $700,000. They
knew nothing of the theft until 1998, when they were told of it by an
    The tip led to an FBI investigation that resulted in a search warrant
served at Barry James' business in Pennsylvania, a visit to his office in
Santa Barbara and a trip to Japan to view the skeleton.
    On July 23, Barry James pleaded guilty in Castle Dale's 7th District
Court to a charge of theft by receiving stolen property. He was sentenced to
1 year of probation, according to court records. The federal forfeiture case
was resolved earlier this month. Bryant said the allosaurus fossil, dated to
the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago, was one of only about
a dozen known complete skeletons of an allosaurus. The skeleton will remain
in Japan because there is no legal way to force its return, said Melodie
Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City.
    An ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, the allosaurus, Utah's official state
fossil, was a predator-scavenger that grew to up to 47 feet in length.
    The BLM and FBI initiated a task force two years ago to investigate
fossil thefts from federal lands. Other investigations are ongoing. Anyone
with information regarding fossil theft from government lands may contact
the BLM at 800-722-3998.


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