A federal grand jury has indicted a Utah man on four counts related to the dinosaur footprint taken last month from the slickrock near Moab.
All the counts allege Jared F. Ehlers, 35, of Moab, damaged or removed government property by taking the three-toed print on Feb. 17. The most serious count carries a penalty of 20 years in prison.
Ehlers’ initial appearance in U.S. District Court is set for April 22.
A message left at Ehlers’ home and the construction business he owns in Moab was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The footprint was one of about 20 in the Hell’s Revenge jeeping area near the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just east of Moab. An off-road tour operator took visitors to see the print on Feb. 18, only to find that the rock containing the print was no longer there.
The rock had partly come loose from the ground and appears to have been pried free with pry-bars, said Rebecca Hunt-Foster, Canyon Country paleontologist for the BLM, shortly after the theft.
The footprint became a cause for local outfitters who earn a living showing such artifacts and other Moab attractions to tourists. Multiple outfitters donated to a reward fund that totaled at least $7,000. It was unclear Tuesday whether someone was eligible for the reward.
Jason Taylor, operations manager at Moab Adventure Center, one of the outfitters that contributed to the reward, said he was disappointed a local man was accused of taking the footprint, but was proud the community worked together to try to solve the case.
“It kind of proves a point that we locals here are not going to tolerate people coming in and taking what’s here,” Taylor said.
The footprint has not been recovered.
After receiving information that someone threw it in the Colorado River near Dewey Bridge, the Utah Department of Public Safety dive team searched Saturday to no avail.
The charges federal filed against Ehlers are removal of paleontological resources, theft of government property, depredation of government property and destruction of evidence.
A search of state court records shows that other than traffic offenses, Ehlers has only two prior criminal convictions: he pleaded guilty in Grand County’s justice court to impaired driving in April 2011 and to driving under the influence in June 2013.
In both cases, he was sentenced to pay fines, complete community service and undergo treatment.