An art dealer hid a treasure chest filled with gold and gems somewhere in the Rocky Mountains for the world to find. A map and poem were the only clues.
But before it was found, a 52-year-old man, overzealous in his search, went digging in pursuit of the treasure in a cemetery inside Yellowstone National Park. Rodrick Dow Craythorn of Utah pled guilty to two felonies on Monday, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
"The hunt for the Forrest Fenn treasure was often viewed as a harmless diversion, but in this case it led to substantial damage to important public resources," Mark Klaassen, U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming, said in a statement on Tuesday. "The Defendant let his quest for discovery override respect for the law."
Craythorn pled guilty to excavating or trafficking in archeological resources and to injury or depredation to United States property. He faces combined maximum penalties of up to 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines.
He previously pled not guilty. His lawyer, Christopher Grant Humphrey, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said that Craythorn caused at least $1,000 in damages for digging in Fort Yellowstone Cemetery between Oct. 1, 2019, and May 24, 2020. His sentencing is scheduled for March 17 in Casper, Wyo.
The cemetery was used to bury U.S. Army soldiers and civilian employees, as well as their family members.
Fenn hid the treasure in an "ornate, Romanesque box," as NPR's John Burnett reported. "He says he hid the box in the midst of the Great Recession to cheer folks up and to get them off their couches and into the great outdoors." Fenn valued the contents at $2 million.
He hinted at the treasure's whereabouts with a poem in his self-published book, The Thrill of the Chase. Some spent years trying to decipher clues in the poem. Fenn died at 90, three months after the treasure was found.
Stuef kept his identity a secret after finding the treasure. He only revealed it because of a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which Stuef has called "meritless," was filed by a Chicago attorney who claims "someone hacked her cellphone and stole proprietary information that led them to the trove."
After Fenn's death, Stuef is presumably the only person who knows exactly where the treasure was hidden. It is a secret that neither man would divulge.
"It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains," Fenn wrote in a statement on his blog, "and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago."