Continued from page 1

Silvina Coates, of Casa Grande, Ariz., recalled Tuesday that her husband had lots of side business deals, including one with a man in Costa Rica for the moon rock display. She couldn’t remember what the trade involved.

Wright has a copy of Stupak’s $10,000 check to Harry Coates’ business, Midway Development Inc., along with an affidavit describing how Coates acquired the display from a man named Bob Stone of Golfito, Costa Rica.

The display had been picked from a pile of looted items by an unnamed Costa Rican mercenary fighting with Nicaraguan soldiers when a Somoza compound dubbed “El Retire” was sacked “at the time of the revolution in Nicaragua,” according to the affidavit. It said the mercenary later switched sides to fight for the Contras, before returning to Costa Rica in 1979.

“Bob bought it in good faith,” Wright said.

Stupak wanted to sell the display a little more than a decade ago. He offered Wright 10 percent of the proceeds if he could help, then upped the offer to 25 percent.

Wright counseled him that he couldn’t auction or sell it, because whether it had been lost or stolen, it wasn’t clear that Stupak had any legal right to own it.

After Stupak died, Wright contacted NASA and the Nicaraguan consulate about returning the display.

Wright obtained a written promise in April from NASA attorney Cedric Campbell that if the rock display is authentic, “NASA will return the rock to the people of Nicaragua.”

Gutheinz, who teaches an online University of Phoenix course and enlists student sleuths to find missing moon rocks, said the sample sounded authentic. He said he expects an ownership fight in Nicaragua.

But that’ll just provide another chapter for one of the many stories Gutheinz tells about moon rock samples. He says his students have helped find the 79 displays since 2002.

Governors took them home in Colorado, West Virginia and Missouri, he said. A display given to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton turned up in archived materials after Clinton became president.

“Here, the attorney did the right thing,” Gutheinz said. “He told NASA and they’re in the process of turning it over properly. We can only hope that Nicaragua gets its property back.”