SALT LAKE CITY – Prosecutors have filed theft charges against five people accused of stealing 60 pounds of dinosaur bones near a Utah quarry during an educational trip run by a college in Texas, authorities said Thursday.
The bones were taken after the suspects slipped away from a sanctioned dig last May and pried a dinosaur limb and other fragments from a desert landscape that contains a treasure trove of bones that are millions of years old, authorities said.
The stolen bones were estimated to be worth more than $2,500, but investigators don't believe the defendants intended to sell them, said Daniel Burton, a spokesman for the Utah attorney general.
"They just happened to find them and took them home inappropriately," he said. "There are statutes specifically there to protect the land, so you cannot do this kind of thing."
The bones were seized by investigators and returned to Utah after being taken from an area near Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry, about 230 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Prosecutors filed theft and trespassing counts in the case on Wednesday.
The quarry contains hundreds of fossils from the Jurassic Period that date back as much as 150 million years. Dinosaur species found there have included the long-necked Brachiosaurus, one of the largest animals ever to roam the Earth.
The five defendants, including students and a former employee, were from McLennan Community College in Waco, college president Johnette McKown said.
Participants on the educational trip through the Southwest were instructed not to disturb the fossils, and what happened doesn't reflect the way the trip has been run for nine years, McKown said.
Geology officials were devastated to learn about the theft and have since stepped up training for people on the trip, including instruction on how to report someone who defaces the landscape, McKown said.
She said the five suspects are no longer associated with the institution. The students have finished their studies at the college and employee Philip Bukowski, 53, no longer works there.
Prosecutors filed charges against Bukowski of Crawford, Texas; 24-year-old Paige Bukowski of College Station, Texas; 23-year-old Collin Kubacak of Elm Mott, Texas; 25-year-old Travis York of Waco, Texas; and 36-year-old Crystal Webster of Georgetown, Texas. They have not been arrested.
The Associated Press sought comment from them, but no attorneys were listed in court records and calls to publicly listed phone numbers were not immediately returned.
In 2014, a Utah man pleaded guilty to a federal charge of removing a paleontological resource after prying up a piece of sandstone marked with a dinosaur footprint near Moab, Utah. He was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay about $15,000 in restitution.