Suspect Arrested in Stolen Moon Rocks Case

Suspect Arrested in Stolen Moon Rocks Case

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A suspect accused of working with three NASA interns to steal moon rocks from a government safe was arrested in Utah one day after he failed to show up for his trial in Florida.

Gordon McWhorter, 27, Salt Lake City, was the only one of the four defendants who did not plead guilty to last year's thefts from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. In another development, one of McWhorter's co-defendants, Thad Ryan Roberts, 26, was charged Wednesday with stealing dinosaur artifacts.

Roberts, a University of Utah student, was accused of stealing a number of items, including teeth from several types of dinosaurs, a skull, bones and a footprint, from a Utah location that was not disclosed in the charging documents.

Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City, said the new case will be transferred to federal court in Florida, where it will be resolved with the moon-rock case.

McWhorter failed to show up for his trial at Orlando on Monday and U.S. District Judge Anne C. Conway issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

He was arrested at Juice and Java in Provo Tuesday, said Provo police spokeswoman Karen Mayne.

Rydalch said McWhorter was taken before U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer in Salt Lake City for an identity hearing, was not cooperative and another hearing was set for next Tuesday, at which prosecutors are to present evidence that the man in custody is indeed McWhorter.

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

McWhorter and his three co-defendants carried away a 600-pound safe that also contained meteorites from Mars, prosecutors allege.

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.

FBI agents posing as buyers arrested McWhorter, Roberts and Tiffany Fowler, 23, in Orlando last July. The fourth defendant, Shae L. Saur, 20, was arrested in Texas.

The moon rocks were found in the trio's Orlando hotel room in a fishing tackle box that also contained meteorites and NASA records documenting their authenticity, according to court records.

Roberts, Fowler and Saur previously pleaded guilty and were to testify against McWhorter, according to court records.

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

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