Utah Man Sentenced in Moon Rocks Case

Utah Man Sentenced in Moon Rocks Case

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- A judge sentenced a Utah man to five years and 10 months in jail on Tuesday for advertising the sale of moon rocks on the Internet and skipping trial.

Gordon Sean McWhorter, 27, of Salt Lake City, was convicted in June. He could have been sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $250,000 for stealing property of value to the United States and interstate transportation of stolen property.

McWhorter has maintained his innocence.

"I'm proud of him," his mother, Riki Thoreson, told the Orlando Sentinel after his sentencing. "Why should he take a plea (bargain) when he didn't steal anything?"

McWhorter did not appear for his April trial in Orlando and was arrested three days later in Utah.

McWhorter was the only one of the four defendants who was tried for the July 15 thefts from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In December, Tiffany Fowler, 26; Thad Roberts, 26; and Shae Saur, 20, pleaded guilty in federal court in Orlando to conspiracy to commit theft and interstate transportation of stolen property.

Fowler and Shaw, both NASA interns, were sentenced to 180 days house arrest and ordered to pay more than $9000 restitution to the space agency.

Roberts, who testified against McWhorter, has a sentencing hearing scheduled Oct. 29.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and defense lawyers said the moon rocks and a Martian meteorite were worth at least $5.1 million in 1973. With inflation, that would make them worth $21 million in 2003. A true market value was not established.

The moon rocks came from every Apollo mission from 1969 to 1972.

The defendants were arrested as part of an FBI sting. The FBI in Tampa began investigating in May 2002 when a Belgian rock collector alerted investigators to Internet offers to sell moon rocks for $1,000 to $5,000 a gram.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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