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Ary must pay $132,000 for space artifacts

by John Green, The Hutchinson News

The Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, KS. (cS)

The following first appeared in The Hutchinson News. It is reprinted here with permission.

Aug. 25, 2006

—Former Kansas Cosmosphere President Max Ary was ordered Thursday to pay more than $132,000 in restitution for items he stole from the museum he founded and then sold in online auctions.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten agreed to allow Ary, 56, who now lives in Wichita, to remain free on bond while he appeals his conviction, and to let Ary's lawyer withdraw from the case before an appeal is filed.

It was unclear Thursday whether the court would stay the restitution order.

Ary, president and CEO of the Cosmosphere from February 1976 to September 2002, declined comment following the afternoon hearing.

He was convicted in November 2005 on 12 counts, including theft of government property, mail and wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen goods and money laundering. Jurors also determined Ary should forfeit $124,140 for his crimes.

He was sentenced in May to three years in federal prison, but the sentence was stayed pending his appeal.

Prosecutor Debra Barnett argued Thursday that Ary should have to pay $233,762 in restitution for losses to the Cosmosphere, NASA, the company that insured Cosmosphere artifacts, and to online buyers who lost items they purchased which were seized or voluntarily turned over to the government.

Ary's attorney, Lee Thompson of Wichita, contested most of the claims, contending Ary should only have to pay $57,750 in restitution.

The biggest chunk of money Marten disallowed was $79,387 for six rolls of uncut 70mm film recorded during space flights that both Ary and the Cosmosphere claimed possession of, but for which there were no records of ownership.

Cosmosphere curator Jim Remar testified during Ary's trial that he recalled seeing film items in boxes at the Cosmosphere, but none was listed in the museum inventory. Ary argued they were from his personal collection.

Marten also deducted $22,000 for a couple of items that Ary sold on behalf of the Cosmosphere. The museum received the proceeds of those sales.

The final $132,374 restitution order included $50,000 for the insurance company, $33,359 for the Cosmosphere, $30,400 to NASA and $18,615 for other artifact owners.

All of the artifacts remain in custody of the court pending the outcome of Ary's appeal.

Thompson filed a motion prior to Thursday's hearing asking to withdraw as Ary's attorney prior to filing of the appeal because Ary "has exhausted his financial resources" and hasn't paid Thompson since August 2005.

In a letter included with the motion, Thompson noted a legal defense fund started by Ary's friends "has very limited funds" and has been tapped to pay direct expenses and for a trial transcript.

Marten asked Ary who he intended to hire, and Thompson said he'd seek court-appointed counsel. Marten then suggested Thompson should be appointed since he's familiar with the case. The attorney asked for time to discuss that option with Ary.

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