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Astronaut autographs lead to arrest

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"Moon dust" salesman sent to prison

March 15, 2001 — On March 12, 2001, Richard Keith Mountain (aka: Nicholas Parker Cole) was sentenced to 21 months in prison, three years probation, 300 hours of community service, ordered to pay $98,750 restitution, and pay a $600 special assessment fee, a NASA Office of the Inspector General file reports.

The sentencing followed Mountain's indictment last year by a Federal Grand Jury on 24 counts of mail and wire fraud for misrepresenting dirt he was selling as being of lunar surface origin. An investigation confirmed Mountain sold sand-like granules to multiple buyers throughout the United States, Australia, and Canada.

Special Agents of the NASA Office of Inspector General, Office of Criminal Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conducted this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby with the District of Arizona handled the prosecution.

"Moon dust" dealer pleas guilty to fraud

October 30, 2000 — Richard Keith Mountain (also known as Nicholas Parker Cole) of New Milford, CT, appeared before United States Magistrate Morton Silver, District of Arizona, and entered a plea of guilty to six counts of mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to sell "moon rocks" to interested buyers.

Mountain was previously indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 counts of mail and wire fraud for misrepresenting that the materials he was selling were collected from the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The sand-like granules he sold were not from the Moon.

The April 29, 1999, indictment described Mountain as owning and operating several businesses in Arizona and California to identify, solicit and defraud buyers from throughout the United States, Australia, and Canada.

As a result of the plea, Mountain faces a possible prison term of 5 years and fines totaling $250,000. Sentencing has been set for January 8, 2001.

Astronaut autographs lead to arrest

September 8, 2000 — A U.S. citizen, wanted in Arizona for the sale of $90,000 of fake lunar soil, was arrested in Canada on September 2 after he was found selling real astronaut autographs to benefit a cause that he invented.

Richard Keith Mountain, 53, fled with his wife and two children to British Columbia after U.S. Marshals issued a warrant for his arrest. Arriving in the country on August 26, Mountain began identifying himself as representing the Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA).

Mountain approached area galleries attempting to sell limited edition prints signed by astronauts, including first American in space Alan Shepard, moonwalker Alan Bean and Apollo-Soyuz commander Thomas Stafford. The photographs, marketed under the title "American Dream," were laminated after the astronauts had signed, causing the ink autographs to sometimes bleed into the paper.

While trying to sell the prints, Mountain claimed that the proceeds would be donated to a CCA charity that would send area children to space camp.

After successfully moving a few of the prints for $160 each, Mountain reportedly tried to arrange a fourth larger sale for $8,000 with a gallery in Surrey, Vancouver. The owner became suspicious however, after noticing their telephone's caller ID identified Mountain's number as that of a hotel. The owner then contacted the CCA.

Soon thereafter, Constable Tim Shields with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) received a phone call.

"I was contacted [by the CCA] about a gentleman going by the name of Steven Mountain who was approaching British Columbia area galleries as a representative of the Association," told Shields in a telephone interview with collectSPACE.

Not only was the CCA not aware of Mountain's activities, but had never organized a space camp fund.

Shields obtained a warrant to enter Mountain's room, but upon arriving at the hotel, found that he had fled.

"He jumped out the window, luckily of a first floor room," recounted Shields. "He then proceeded to climb a barbed wire fence ripping apart his bare hands, ran through brambles of blackberries, all awhile wearing only boxer shorts and a T-shirt. He finally fell down a ravine and while he was attempting to climb out we apprehended him."

Mountain, now in custody of the RCMP, is facing three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction. According to Shields, he is then "likely to face deportation to stand trial in the United States."

Mountain's troubles with autographs extend back to the early 1990s. After several years of selling the "American Dream" set and other astronaut-signed prints (including one created for the Mercury 7 Foundation), Mountain declared his company Pacific Coast Galaxy bankrupt in 1993. Although the court ordered he was to surrender all the prints and artwork to a court trustee, and reportedly many were, the bankruptcy was overturned when it was revealed Mountain was still selling prints from the series.

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