Man Charged with Stealing Fossilised Dinosaur Footprint
A grand jury has charged a resident of the town of Moab (Grand County, eastern Utah), with four federal offences related to the theft and subsequent loss of a fossilised dinosaur footprint from Bureau of Land Management administered land. Thirty-five year old, Jared Frederick Ehlers has been indicted on one count each of removal of palaeontological resources, depredation of government property, destruction of evidence and theft of government property. The motive for the removal of the three-toed dinosaur footprint from a sandstone ridge near to the Hell’s Revenge off-road jeep trail and the alleged subsequent dumping of the fossil in the Colorado river remains unclear, however, given the high prices the sale of such fossil material can fetch on the black market, it is suspected that the fossil was stolen for commercial gain.
Staff have been monitoring the progress of the investigation closely since Everything Dinosaur team members carried the story of the fossil theft on this blog back on February 22nd.
To read about the fossil theft: Dinosaur Footprint Stolen in Utah
Over the weekend of 8th/9th March, Utah State officials organised a dive team to search an area of the Colorado River as it was believed that the fossil specimen had been thrown into the water from the Dewey Bridge but despite an intense search the fossil was not retrieved.
Explaining how difficult it was to search the riverbed, Grand County Sheriff Steven White stated:
“You’re searching by Braille, everything is by hand. You have zero visibility, you’re dealing with changing currents, you’re dealing with obstacles. It was very hazardous diving conditions.”
The river search was instigated after a suspect came forward and informed State officials where the 190 million year old, Early Jurassic print had been allegedly dumped. It remains unclear as to whether this person was Jared Ehlers.
Ehlers is facing prosecution under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, (American spelling), a law that was passed by the United States Government to help prevent the theft of fossils from public land and to prosecute any person or persons who vandalises fossils. Violators face civil and criminal penalties including fines and possible incarceration.
Moab Man Charged with Four Federal Offences Related to Fossil Footprint Theft
Picture Credit: Grand County Jail
The most serious count, that Elhers is facing, the destruction of evidence, carries a maximum prison sentence of twenty years. The other three counts carry a maximum prison sentence of between five and ten years. No date has been set yet for Mr Ehler’s first court appearance, if he is convicted on all four counts, he could face a maximum possible sentence of forty-five years in prison.
A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“The federal authorities are to be congratulated for the swift and speedy way in which they have pursued this case. However, the fossil specimen itself remains lost and as it is sandstone, it will quickly begin to erode and abrade if it remains in the river. At this juncture, it is very hard to say whether or not the fossil will ever be recovered. Even if the fossil is found, it may be virtually destroyed as a trace fossil.”