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Moon NASA Space The Almighty Buck The Courts

Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Belongs To Buyer, Not NASA, Judge Rules (behindtheblack.com) 63

schwit1 quotes a report from Behind The Black: A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error. CollectSPACE.com reports: "Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as 'a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.' The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. 'She is entitled to possession of the bag,' Marten wrote in his order." This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later. Space.com's report adds: "The zippered cloth pouch, which was labeled in bold black letters 'Lunar Sample Return,' was used on July 20, 1969, as an 'outer decontamination bag' to protect the first moon rocks retrieved from the surface of the moon as they were delivered to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Carlson purchased the bag for $995 in February 2015, at a Texas auction held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. The bag had been forfeited along with other artifacts found in the home of Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas."
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Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Belongs To Buyer, Not NASA, Judge Rules

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  • by Justin Fliss ( 4701259 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @02:12AM (#53501845)
    Excuse me while I lol myself to sleep
    • That's weird.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Marshals Service made the error. These kinds of property related claims never expire. NASA is eligible for the bag long after Carson's death so even if this court has made the obvious error, they can claim the bag back from the formed estate, or from any subsequent buyer.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, the governmen has every right to sell the government's stuff. Everyone ssrms to be missing the fact that NASA and the US Marshalls are two branches of the same legal entity. Just because the right hand wants it back, does that void the left hand's sale?

  • a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.

    So what? All that should mean is that she is not liable for the fact that it was stolen, and that she should be refunded at full cost. It shouldn't mean they can own something that was originally stolen.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @02:54AM (#53501879)

      It shouldn't mean they can own something that was originally stolen.

      It may have been stolen, but it wasn't stolen from NASA. NASA gave it away. It was later stolen from a museum, then recovered by the police. It wasn't claimed within the statutory limit, so the police (actually the US Marshals) sold it at auction. NASA was suing the winner of that auction. Legally, NASA has no standing. Morally, they have no right.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @05:03AM (#53502079) Homepage

        It may have been stolen, but it wasn't stolen from NASA. NASA gave it away. It was later stolen from a museum, then recovered by the police.

        They could have transferred ownership, but isn't that unusual? I thought most such items were formally loaners even if they're casually referred to as donated and permanently on display. There's quite clear precedent here though, if something of yours is seized and forfeited it's lost. Doesn't matter if it was a theft, lease or a loan, it doesn't matter if you never knew it happened. I remember one case from civil forfeiture, they rented a sail boat and had got caught smuggling, boat was seized and sold before the owners knew. It was accepted as fact that they ran a rental agency and had no involvement in the smuggling attempt.

        Did the owners get their boat back? Nope. Did they get compensated? Nope. They can only sue the jailbirds for the loss, the boat is now legally somebody else's property. So if they don't want to have one rule for NASA and one rule for everyone else, this is how it must be. When nobody contested the seizure, it was forfeited. At that point it stopped being whoever's property it was before and became the government's legal property, free of all history. And then it was lawfully sold. Is that "fair"? No, but it's how all police auctions work.

        • by flink ( 18449 )

          That seems like extreme laziness on the government's part. Presumably the boat has some sort of VIN and a title could be looked up. That sort of thing shouldn't be legal if the government doesn't make a good faith effort to find the original owner.

          • They could make a good-faith effort to find the owner, or they could auction it and pad yearly revenue. The choice is obvious.

            The real problem here, like with civil forfeiture, is that the police entity that seized the property gets to keep the proceeds. It is in its best interest to sell a seized object as quickly as it can legally do so without finding and notifying the rightful owner.

            • They could make a good-faith effort to find the owner, or they could auction it and pad yearly revenue. The choice is obvious.

              This is a big reason why police organizations often oppose drug legalization. Drug crimes are the biggest source of forfeitures, so it is profitable for police to focus on them, and devote minimal resources to unprofitable crimes like, say, sexual assault.

          • There is a Hull Identification Number (HIN). For most boats it is a on a plate, metal or plastic, that is attached to the boat. The coast guard keeps a database of all numbers.
            With it being a plate it is easy to break off.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Hmm. That's not my reading of what the judge said. He said it was a good faith purchase made in a sale "conducted according to law." So apparently Uncle Sam had title to this object but the agency in question didn't realize that.

        I believe this refers to something called the good faith purchaser doctrine, which in simple terms seems to say that if you sell something to someone who purchases that thing in good faith, then no backsies. So even though the sale was improper (the Marshall Service has no author

    • a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.

      So what? All that should mean is that she is not liable for the fact that it was stolen, and that she should be refunded at full cost. It shouldn't mean they can own something that was originally stolen.

      Good Faith Purchasers are often entitled to protection under the law. This helps promote certainty when you buy certain things.

      Judges generally follow the law, rather than what you believe should happen.

  • Max Ary stole it.
    Texas auction fenced it.
    Nancy Carlson bought it.

  • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @03:07AM (#53501897)

    Why would NASA bother chasing this? To the buyer its a kind-of-cool conversation piece, but it has no real scientific or historical value.
    If she paid $1000, that sounds reasonable. What were NASA's lawyers' fees?

    • They probably lost the notes on how to make them, and were hoping to study one to figure it out again.

      • Nope. Drawings for the Apollo program are on file at the Data Repository at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, AL, all two million of them. I've seen them myself. They are on IBM aperture cards, which are punch cards with a square of microfilm inserted into them. More compact and lasts longer than the original blueprints. At the time I was working for Boeing on the Space Station program, and we were using an MSFC building just down the road.

        There are lots of things the government isn't ve

    • To the buyer its a kind-of-cool conversation piece, but it has no real scientific or historical value.

      Sure it does. Apparently, it was used on the moon landing mission, so it's certainly a historical item. And we can tell the value: $995.

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Why would NASA bother chasing this?

      Did you mean why would a government agency be an obsessive manipulative overbearing bully? Is there any other type?

  • It's my understanding that in general with stolen goods, when this is discovered by you only *after* you bought the item(s), you will lose those goods, and have few legal recourses but to sue the person you bought it from. Buying property that is stolen, no matter how ignorant you are of the nature of the property, does not entitle you to legally possess that property once it is known that it was stolen.

    I seem to recall a real estate scam a few years ago that really illustrated this point.

    • My understanding is that in this case NASA didn't bother to claim the bag after it was confiscated from the thief. So after a while it was sold at auction by the police.
      It was a case of NASA not bothering to claim the bag before it was sold. So the item that was bought wasn't just stolen, it was also abandoned by the original owner.

      • by ZenShadow ( 101870 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @04:01AM (#53501979) Homepage

        More accurately, NASA gave it away to the museum, from where it was stolen. In that light, the museum could conceivably have a claim, but NASA has no standing.

        I mean, if I sell my car, and it's stolen from the new owner, can I then try to claim it back? That could be a fun scam.

        • It is more than that. Lets pretend its a car.
          I donate my (rightfully owned) car to a museum.
          (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is stolen from the museum.
          (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is retrieved by the police.
          (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is not claimed by the museum. It now rightfully belongs to the police.
          (The car that rightfully belongs to the police) is auctioned, and purchased by a buyer.
          I want my car back!

          "My" car has now been rightfully owned by two

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )

            I donate my (rightfully owned) car to a museum.
            (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is stolen from the museum.
            (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is retrieved by the police.
            (The car that rightfully belongs to the museum) is not claimed by the museum. It now rightfully belongs to the police.
            (The car that rightfully belongs to the police) is auctioned, and purchased by a buyer.
            I want my car back!

            Was the museum dutififully informed that it was recovered before they auctioned it, an

    • by aix tom ( 902140 )

      The "special thing" here is that they were bought *after* they were recovered by the police. At that point they presumable ceased to be stolen goods. Or else you would never be able to sell anything that was once stolen from you, recovered by police, and returned to you.

      The real question here is why the police never returned the bag to NASA (or the museum it was stolen from). When they find some random jewellery they compare it to stuff that has been reported stolen, why didn't they do that in case of the b

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        The real question here is why the police never returned the bag to NASA (or the museum it was stolen from)

        Exactly my point... and that the police apparently did not do this should mean that it was not ever legally theirs to auction off...

        • by torkus ( 1133985 )

          There's no requirement for the police to attempt to determine, locate, and contact the owner of seized items.

          Even if the bag *says* 'property of NASA' who's to say that's even accurate? How are the police to know even if they cared or wanted to?

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )

            There's no requirement for the police to attempt to determine, locate, and contact the owner of seized items.

            They should be caring if they are planning on auctioning it off.

            A number of years ago, I recall a real estate scandal being in the papers where some people's homes were being sold to other people by a real estate company while the real owners were on vacation and out of town when the real estate company involved had no idea that the people they were selling it for did not have the rights to sell.

    • As other posters note, the difference here is that the rightful owner of the stolen property was given ample chance to claim it after it was recovered - NASA did not claim it in the time period allowed for in law, so the police force that recovered it could rightfully dispose of it in any way they wish, which they did at auction. Once that claim period expired, it ceased to be stolen property and became unclaimed property - the buyer was not buying stolen goods.

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        "the rightful owner of the stolen property was given ample chance to claim it...." Why do I doubt this? Not that I doubt that the requisite time had elapsed, but I am somewhat skeptical that they were dutifully informed in a timely manner that the property was available for them to reclaim it.
        • by Agripa ( 139780 )

          "the rightful owner of the stolen property was given ample chance to claim it...." Why do I doubt this? Not that I doubt that the requisite time had elapsed, but I am somewhat skeptical that they were dutifully informed in a timely manner that the property was available for them to reclaim it.

          That is how it works when the property belongs to a citizen. Why would it be any different for a government agency?

  • by arfonrg ( 81735 ) on Saturday December 17, 2016 @03:17AM (#53501911)

    that means that the stolen property had been recovered by the police but the legal owner (NASA) never bothered to come and pick it up.

    Therefore the government (state or local) sold it at auction. It belongs to the woman.

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      that means that the stolen property had been recovered by the police but the legal owner (NASA) never bothered to come and pick it up.

      Was NASA the legal owner still? The summary says they gave the bag away and it ended up in the Cosmosphere museum's collection. The bag was stolen form the museum, not NASA.

      • According to the space.com article, the government argued that NASA was still the owner but was not notified of the bag (which was misidentified as belonging to the thief). Frequently when people or organizations "give" something to a museum, they don't literally give it to the museum. They give it on permanent loan precisely to prevent incidents like this.

        The decision is a little troubling. If I loaned my lawnmower to my neighbor and (unknown to me) he gets raided by police for possessing stolen prope
        • The decision is a little troubling. If I loaned my lawnmower to my neighbor and (unknown to me) he gets raided by police for possessing stolen property, and the police incorrectly identified the lawnmower as belonging to my neighbor and auction it to cover his fines, it seems like this judge is saying it's a legit sale and I have no recourse to get my lawnmower back.

          If you've been notified of the sale, as NASA allegedly was, then that's right. You have no recourse. The laws for other people's property are fairly specific, though they vary by jurisdiction. You have to use such and such methods to notify the owner (if known) and you have to hold on the item for such and such time before auction if confiscated.

        • by mjensen ( 118105 )

          little troubling how? Really not that much more troubling than your neighbor saying it is his mower now. May be bad example.

          But for this scenario, the museum should have done an inventory and told the police the bag was part of the museum and should be returned to the museum. If there would have been conflict from police, museum should have asked for backup from NASA on talking to police. I would hope that NASA would schedule asking museums if the items were still being shown or needed repair or woul

        • There are a bunch of laws similar to this, see Adverse Possession. You as the owner are expected to known about your property and in some time frame actually checked on it.
          You could probably sue the neighbor for loss of the property. However the original lawnmower would not be returned.
    • According to TFA, the U.S. Marshals Service mistakenly believed the bag was one of Ary's personal possessions. NASA was notified of the theft of NASA items from the museum, but the bag was not listed as being one of those items.

      "[The U.S. government] further alleges that NASA was the owner of the bag but was not given notice of the forfeiture or the sale of the bag," the judge recounted.

  • Was there any attempt by the US Marshals Service to return the STOLEN items back to their rightful owners before selling them?

    If the answer is no, then this ruling is just another example of how messed up forfeiture laws are in this country.
  • I knew Max Ary many years ago. All he was guilty of was poor record keeping. Even several astronauts testified on his behalf, but to no avail.

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