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  NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock

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Author Topic:   NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock
Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-26-2011 08:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
NASA busts woman selling $1.7M moon rock

A woman's attempt to sell a purported $1.7 million moon rock was thwarted last week when the buyer she met with turned out to be an undercover agent working for NASA.

The sting, which according to the Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff's Dept. came after several months of investigation, took place at a Denny's restaurant in Lake Elsinore, Calif., about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The woman, who authorities did not identify, was detained but not arrested pending the "moon rock" being verified as being of lunar origin.

spaced out
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posted 05-26-2011 09:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaced out   Click Here to Email spaced out     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
$1.7M would buy you an awful lot of lunar rock in the form of lunar meteorites.

Still it will be interesting to see if this rock turns out to be non-lunar, lunar but meteoritic, or actually Apollo-returned material.

Lunar rock nut
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posted 05-27-2011 06:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lunar rock nut   Click Here to Email Lunar rock nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even if it is not a moon rock that is still a serious fraud attempt.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-24-2011 11:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Associated Press reports that a NASA sting that recovered a "speck of lunar dust smaller than a grain of rice" terrified the 74-year-old female suspect.
Five months after NASA investigators and local agents swooped into the restaurant and hailed their operation as a cautionary tale for anyone trying to sell national treasure, no charges have been filed, NASA isn't talking and the case appears stalled.

The target, Joann Davis, a grandmother who says she was trying to raise money for her sick son, asserts the lunar material was rightfully hers, having been given to her space-engineer husband by Neil Armstrong in the 1970s.

"It's a very upsetting thing," Davis told The Associated Press. "It's very detrimental, very humiliating, all of it a lie."

...Davis told AP [the moon rock was] among many of the space-related heirlooms her husband left her when he died in 1986. She said she had worked as a lexicographer and he had worked as an engineer for North American Rockwell, which contracted for NASA during the Apollo era.

Davis claims Armstrong gave the items to her husband, though the affidavit says the first man on the moon has previously told investigators he never gave or sold lunar material to anyone.

In follow-up phone conversations with a NASA agent, Davis acknowledged the rock was not sellable on the open market and fretted about an agent knocking on her door and taking the material, which she was willing to sell for "big money underground."

"She must know that this is a questionable transaction because she used the term `black market,'" Agent Conley states in the search warrant.

capoetc
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posted 10-24-2011 12:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Davis claims Armstrong gave the items to her husband, though the affidavit says the first man on the moon has previously told investigators he never gave or sold lunar material to anyone.
Of course, it is possible that her husband told her that it was a moon rock given to him by Neil Armstrong...

If so, however, it sounds like she still understood it was illegal to own or sell moon rocks.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 12:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Credit: U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Above: This image displayed on a search warrant provided by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California shows a very small piece of moon rock, center, taken from Joann Davis during a sting operation where NASA investigators and local agents swooped into a Denny's restaurant to detain Davis, trying to sell a moon rock. (AP)

Greggy_D
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posted 10-24-2011 01:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Greggy_D   Click Here to Email Greggy_D     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If the moon rock is real, how did she or her husband come into possession of it?

Spacepsycho
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posted 10-24-2011 01:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacepsycho   Click Here to Email Spacepsycho     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What is the NASA law that specifically addresses the illegality of anyone owning lunar material brought back from the Apollo missions?

It seems a bit excessive to use a SWAT team to arrest a 74 year old woman.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-24-2011 02:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't believe there is a specific law addressing Apollo lunar samples. Instead broad generic statues are being applied in conjunction with agency policy.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 02:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Scott is correct; there is no "moon rock law." Per an FBI briefing document, it falls under the general theft statute, 18 USC 641.
The statute is broad, covering many types of theft: outright stealing, embezzlement, receiving of stolen goods as well as pilfering. It covers anything of value to the United States or any of its agencies. If the federal government can prove that a moon rock was knowingly converted to an unauthorized use or sold to another without authority, the statute is violated. Assuming the value of the lunar material is in excess of $1,000, the violation is a felony.
Ms. Davis was not arrested, nor have charges been filed.
Several local police officers and NASA OIG agents then moved in on the suspect, took possession of the alleged moon rock and detained the woman for questioning.

Fezman92
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posted 10-24-2011 02:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This image displayed on a search warrant provided by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California shows a very small piece of moon rock...
That is really small. How could someone not lose it?

Glint
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posted 10-24-2011 02:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the original article, it's encased within an acrylic.

fredtrav
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posted 10-24-2011 02:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The better question, who would buy it without some ironclad provenance and chain of custody documents. It may be a moon rock from Apollo but if you can not prove it then it is not worth anything. To simply say Neil Armstrong gave it to my husband proves nothing.

I am not saying it is a fake but I could not see paying big bucks for it.

ilbasso
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posted 10-24-2011 02:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Had to laugh that this attempted $1.7 million transaction took place in a Denny's. How many bad movies had she seen to think that this was a good idea?

Spacepsycho
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posted 10-24-2011 03:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacepsycho   Click Here to Email Spacepsycho     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't believe that Neil Armstrong gave this award away, but it would be interesting to find out how pieces like this were made and obtained.

fredtrav
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posted 10-24-2011 05:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ilbasso:
Had to laugh that this attempted $1.7 million transaction took place in a Denny's.
In the tale of the missing Honduran moon rock that was recovered and returned to Honduras, the buyer at the time, Mr. Rosen, also met an agent of the seller at a Denny's to give him a payment towards the sale. Maybe they should hold the next space auction at Denny's.

Maybe they should have a moon rock special to go along with their Grand Slam.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-24-2011 05:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The lunar sample has yet to be positively identified as such. The Associated Press makes reference to an "authenticated moon rock" but later states that NASA "could not talk about an ongoing investigation" and "so far they have not publicly revealed any proof."

When the alleged moon fleck was first seized, NASA acknowledged that it needed to be tested.

Bill Hunt
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posted 10-24-2011 11:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Bill Hunt   Click Here to Email Bill Hunt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's my response to all this: It's a freaking sliver of dust, from which absolutely nothing can be learned that hasn't already been learned. Doesn't the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies have anything better to be doing with their time?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-25-2011 03:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the information we have about this case, Davis seems to have brought this investigation upon herself. She contacted a NASA contractor for assistance selling the moon rock and reportedly told a NASA agent that she knew the rock was not sellable on the open market and she was willing to sell for "big money underground."

If that account is accurate, then she admitted knowledge of the law and a desire to circumvent it.

jimsz
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posted 10-25-2011 07:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA and the government should have larger issues to deal with than an old lady trying to sell a sliver of a rock.

Robert - if you are going to edit posts made by members you should note that.

fredtrav
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posted 10-25-2011 10:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If the "rock" is a fake, then she is trying to commit a rather serious fraud. That is clearly against the law.

If it is real and she came by it legally, then yes there is a bit of overreaction. The problem is that if it is real, there is no precedence in a person owning a bit of moon rock that was not gifted to another country. While some allege that some rocks were given as presentations, NASA says no, and none of these have surfaced. If Neil Armstrong did indeed give the rock to her husband (which I strongly doubt), and he wishes to acknowledge it, he will have to explain how he came to be in possession of it.

In this case, the government is right to have launched this investigation, if for no other reason than to stop a fraud. If the rock is real and she can show legal ownership, then it will have to be returned to her. She was not arrested, and if the rock is hers and is from the moon, I dare say this whole episode will result in her getting even more money for it.

SpaceAholic
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posted 10-25-2011 10:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If it's real and returned via Apollo the government still owns it (any federal employee who gifted/released it to a private individual did so in contravention of agency policy and national statute).

spaced out
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posted 10-27-2011 08:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaced out   Click Here to Email spaced out     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Found an interesting quote today in an interview with NASA Suit Tech Joe W. Schmitt from the JSC Oral History Project. This was recorded in July 1997 with Joe W. Schmitt being interviewed by Michelle T. Buchanan. This extract is dealing with post-Apollo 11 activities:
Buchanan: When you got the suits back you had to clean them up so they had moon dust and all that all over them?

Schmitt: Yes. When the suits did come back they had to be evaluated. We vacuumed out all the moon dust. A lot of the people at that time, contractors mostly, they would take some of that dust and try and give it to their friends. There was an order that came out that we weren't allowed to have that. All samples of the lunar samples had to go to the storage area there. So we didn't get any of that.

It's an interesting first-hand observation.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-14-2017 01:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Six years later, a federal appeals court has ruled that Joann Davis may try to hold a federal agent liable for detaining her for two hours, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Joann Davis, the widow of an engineer who worked with NASA, was entitled to show that her detention was "unreasonably prolonged and unnecessarily degrading."

The federal agent "organized a sting operation involving six armed officers to forcibly seize a Lucite paperweight containing a moon rock the size of a rice grain from an elderly grandmother," Chief 9th Circuit Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote for a three-judge panel.

...a federal prosecutor later declined to press charges, and Davis sued. [Norman Conley, a special agent and criminal investigator for NASA's Office of Inspector General] contended that as a government agent he was clearly immune from liability. A federal judge disagreed, and Conley appealed to the 9th Circuit.

In rejecting Conley's appeal, the 9th Circuit said Davis had presented enough evidence to show that her constitutional right to be free of unreasonable seizure may have been violated.

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