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July 21, 2024

Ashland man pleads not guilty to conspiracy involving illegal sale of dinosaur bones

A man holds up cases of jewelry and carvings made from dinosaur bones that were allegedly stolen from federal land. U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah
October 27, 2023

Federal investigators allege tons of bones were illegally exported to China

By Kevin Opsahl, Rogue Valley Times

An Ashland man has pleaded not guilty to allegedly using his company to export and sell illegally obtained dinosaur bones to China as part of a criminal conspiracy involving three other people, including his father.

Jordan Willing, 40, is accused of using JMW Sales with his father, Steven Willing, 67, of Los Angeles to purchase 150,000 pounds of paleontological resources, including dinosaur bones, for $1.4 million from a Moab, Utah, couple — Vint Wade, 65, and Donna Wade, 67.

Jordan Willing is listed on LinkedIn as CEO and founder of Blue Marble in Ashland. According to Blue Marble’s website, the company was founded by Willing and his wife, who is a preschool teacher. Blue Marble, located at 101 A St., is the maker of “educational toys” that have “impacted the lives of their children and they hope will impact the lives of yours.” 

A message on the LinkedIn website noted Thursday that Jordan Willing’s page does not exist anymore.

Jordan and Steven Willings and the Wades all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in a hearing before Magistrate Judge Cecilia M. Romero of the U.S. District of Utah on Oct. 19.

The alleged conspiracy, which prosecutors say occurred between March 2018 until at least March 2023, began with the Wades, who wanted to amass a collection of bones to sell to vendors at trade shows. The Wades paid cash and wrote checks to known and unknown unindicted individuals to obtain the bones, prosecutors said. Some of the paleontological resources were sold to the Willings, according to the indictment. 

The defendants then exported the dinosaur bones to China, “mislabeling the dinosaur bones and vastly deflating their value so government agents would not suspect the shipments contained illegally obtained, sold and transported” bones, according to the indictment.

The sweeping indictment contains 13 criminal charges, including violating the Paleontological Resources Act, a 2009 federal law that prohibits anyone from knowingly selling, purchasing or exporting any fossilized remains.

“Most of you are probably familiar with ARPA, the Archeological Resources Preservation Act, but it is … extremely rare, maybe never, to have a case that involves … this many pounds of paleontological resources,” U.S. Attorney Trina Higgins said in an Oct. 19 press conference regarding the case.

She added that the Willings’ and Wades’ alleged acts mean “a loss for future generations from just being able to experience being out on a hike … and seeing these dinosaur bones in their primary location.”

Allegedly stolen paleontological resources are pictured in a photo that displayed during a press conference to announce charges in a stolen dinosaur bones case at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City on Oct. 19. BLM

“The true loss of removing these items from public lands cannot be monetarily measured; it is invaluable,” Higgins said. 

In this criminal case, the government only charged Jordan Willing on six counts and his father on four. The men both share indictments on charges of conspiracy against the U.S., theft of U.S. property, and violation of the PRA.

The indictment mentions Jordan Willing’s name 13 times.

The younger Willing allegedly purchased 17,354 pounds of dinosaur bones, worth more than $73,000, from the Wades on Oct. 10, 2022.

On Nov. 9 and 14, 2022, Jordan Willing allegedly used JMW Sales to make payments on the dinosaur bones to the Wades and began preparing the shipment of those artifacts to California, where they would then be sent to China in December of 2022. 

Jordan Willing, along with Donna Wade, allegedly mislabeled the contents of the bones as “Construction stone” and “Moss Agate” and falsely reported the value of the shipment to be only $8,491.08, not $73,000.

Public Affairs Specialist Felicia Martinez wrote in an email Thursday, “We will not be commenting further than what was said” in the press conference and press release because the case is pending.

Jordan Willing did not respond to a request for comment via his personal Facebook page Thursday, and representatives from Blue Marble did not return phone calls placed by the Rogue Valley Times.

A 10-day jury trial is set to begin Dec. 18 before David Nuffer, senior judge for the District of Utah.

Reporter Kevin Opsahl can be reached at 458-488-2034 or kopsahl@rv-times.com. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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