Paleontologist says She Used State Lab for Private Business

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A noted paleontologist at Utah's Field House of Natural History in Vernal under investigation for billing irregularities has acknowledged she did private work at a state lab in Vernal.

Sue Ann Bilbey told The Salt Lake Tribune that she had, on occasion, prepared fossils for personal clients at lab facilities at the Utah Field House of Natural History, where she is head curator.

She was referring to jobs she did for oil and pipeline companies since she started her private business in 1992.

Utah Department of Natural Resources officials, including Bilbey's supervisor Steve Sroka, would not comment on the investigation. No criminal charges or administrative actions have been filed, but Bilbey remains on paid administrative leave, the Tribune reported Sunday in a copyright story.

Last week, Bilbey's lawyer Carol Clawson said the DNR is investigating a lag between Bilbey receiving payment as a paleontological consultant to a pipeline company and her paying $56,000 in related curation and storage fees to the field house.

On Thursday, Clawson said her client never had done private work on state time or at a state facility, except for a recently found sauropod fossil, for which Bilbey received permission to prepare in the lab.

But Bilbey acknowledged she has prepared fossils from her private business -- in addition to the sauropod -- at the Field House museum lab.

"I have been very open with this," she said. Field House Director Sroka "was aware and never said anything about it."

She said that any failures to pay fees is likely a result of the projects not yet having reached completion.

Under federal law, any construction projects on public land must include a survey for fossils. Any fossils that are uncovered must be properly preserved and turned over to a repository such as the Utah Field House for storage. Fees start at $250 per cubic foot of material.

Bilbey's job as head curator at the Field House was to process such fossil finds and calculate the fees to the scientists who bring them in.

But Bilbey and her husband, Evan Hall, also own a private business, Uinta Paleontological Association Inc., that contracts to do such fossil surveys for oil and pipeline companies.

Bilbey says she filed the required potential conflict of interest statements about her private business to DNR but never has been warned of a conflict.

In a 1999 consulting job, Hall found a nearly complete fossil of a sauropod dinosaur along a Williams company pipeline. Bilbey says she signed a memorandum of understanding with the museum, allowing her to process the huge fossil in the state lab.

But the investigation apparently is going beyond the sauropod case. A copy of a search warrant obtained by The Tribune indicates state investigators raided her Field House office in March. They were looking for "any and all records and documents pertaining to the collection of fossils and dinosaur bones on state, federal and tribal land" by Uinta Paleontological Associates.

The warrant did not require the investigators notify Bilbey before entering.

Bilbey said she gave permission for investigators to enter her home and remove fossils and records.

In hindsight, Bilbey said she should have had a lawyer present and may not have completely understood her rights.

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

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