The paleontologist who discovered Malta’s famed mummy dinosaur pleaded innocent Thursday to federal charges of stealing fossils from Bureau of Land Management land.
Nathan Murphy faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with another three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for the federal charges of theft of government property.
The federal charges come on top of state charges filed in Phillips County in September that he stole a turkey-sized raptor fossil from private property outside of Malta.
Federal prosecutors have released little information on their case, which has been under investigation for a year and a half. Court documents claim the theft occurred on BLM land near Malta between August 2006 and August 2007.
State prosecutors said Thursday that the federal charges will have no impact on their case, which is set to go to trial March 18 in Malta.
State prosecutors allege that Murphy lied about where the raptor was found in order to sell replicas of the fossil, which is estimated to be worth between $150,000 and $400,000.
Murphy was the director of paleontology with the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta for 15 years before resigning July 1, 2007 – one month after the Montana Division of Criminal Investigations, the FBI and the Bureau of Land Management began their investigation.
Since 1993, Murphy has run a paleo-outfitting business, taking crews of amateur diggers to ranches outside Malta and Grass Range looking for dinosaur bones.
In those years, he found a new species of long-necked dinosaur near Grass Range, a family of Stegosauruses near Malta and three duckbills – which now share a home at Malta’s new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum.
His most amazing find was Leonardo, considered the world’s best-preserved dinosaur, complete with organs, skin and tissue that could unlock mysteries dating back 77 million years. The fossil graced the cover of Newsweek and National Geographic and is the star of a major exhibit at Houston’s Museum of Natural History.