4.5B-Year-Old Meteorite Launches Bizarre Legal Fight
"This isn't a typical theft"
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2016 7:07 AM CDT
Updated Apr 16, 2016 11:15 AM CDT
A section of the Fukang meteorite.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – The question of who owns a particular chunk of a famed meteorite is heading to federal court with the filing of a lawsuit and countersuit, SF Gate reports. It all started billions of years ago with the Fukang meteorite slammed into China's Gobi Desert. Fast-forward to the year 2000: when the meteorite was discovered and collectors began acquiring slices of it. Among them was Stephan Settgast, currently of California, who says he bought his 220-pound piece in 2004. In 2014, according to court documents, Settgast agreed to sell it to Lawrence Stifler and Mary McFadden of Massachusetts for $425,000. And then it all went bad. Settgast says the couple violated the conditions of the sale by planning to show it in their rock museum. They say not showing the meteorite was never a condition of the sale and suggest that Settgast got "seller's remorse" after learning he might have undervalued it.

And, they allege, that remorse manifested in what they call the "outrageous act" of Settgast stealing back the rock from the studio of a pair of Kansas rock polishers who spent two years preparing the stone for the buyers, per NBC News. After all, the rock polishers did tell Settgast the meteorite could fetch up to $1 million (which, documents point out, would bump up their 5% fee to $50,000). How the alleged theft of the gold-flecked meteorite actually went down is unclear. Settgast filed a suit in February alleging breach of contract. Stifler, McFadden, and Darryl Pitt, the meteorite expert who brokered the deal, countersued last month. Local authorities in Kansas say they are going to hang back on pursuing Settgast for theft until a federal judge determines who owns the meteorite. "This isn't a typical theft," Miami County undersheriff tells NBC. (No one noticed this meteor the size of a large living room plowing into the earth.)