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Fossil smuggler steals, frees, sells ancient animals — it’s the only thing worth doing in the desert

John McFakeson, 74, was sentenced Friday to 1.5 years in prison for federal crimes, including dealing methamphetamine and breaking into a railroad museum in the Bronx. However, the crimes that drew him to a federal judge’s attention were far more damaging to paleontology and humankind than drugs or war crimes. McFakeson has been convicted of stealing, stripping, and then smuggling fossils out of Mongolia. From 2008 until 2013, he took these fossils, many of which include head or leg bones, in order to go on a trek in the Arctic Circle with George Darnell, a 67-year-old bone expert. The two’s crimes range from copyright and intellectual property rights violations to tampering with fossils, grave robbing, and theft of historic sites.

McFakeson and Darnell amassed a trove of fossils during their expedition. Some of the specimens were recovered, and others have never been found. Fearing for his safety, McFakeson eventually gave up the treasures he grabbed, but pled guilty to the charges facing him and acknowledged that the fossils are in danger. “Mr. McFakeson and Mr. Darnell are the epitome of purveyors of the last of the great mammal fossils,” said Paul Schervish, head of the Exotic Biomolecules Group at the University of Maryland. The theft shows that there is a market for fossils and exists for them because there is an underground market of where they can be sold. Anyone out there to buy a herd of Mastodons?