Former Kansas Cosmosphere Operator Sold Artifacts Belonging To
Max Ary, the popular former operator of the Kansas Cosmosphere
and Space Center, was sentenced Monday to three years in prison on
charges he stole artifacts from the museum, and sold them for his
Turning down his request for leniency, Judge J. Thomas Marten
sentenced Ary to the prison term, as well as three years of
supervised probation after his time in jail.
The Wichita Eagle reports Ary will also have to pay back the
money authorities say he received from selling the artifacts. While
an exact amount hasn't yet been determined, US Attorney Eric
Melgren said that total will fall somewhere between $200,000 and
Ary, 56, was convicted
last year on 12 federal charges stemming from his sale of museum
artifacts. Those charges included mail and wire fraud, theft of
government property, interstate transport of stolen goods, and
Ary's problems began in August 1999, when the Cosmosphere board
told Ary to sell some of the museum's artifacts in order to raise
money to restore the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule in its
collection. Ary told the court he decided to sell some items from
his personal collection at the time, as well, and he organized both
sets of artifacts for auction at his home.
During that process, Ary told the jury, those two groups became
mixed -- and that he mistakenly pocketed some of the money raised
from selling the museum's items, believing the objects were from
his private collection. Prosecutors rebuked that claim, calling Ary
However, several of Ary's friends and associates -- including
astronauts Thomas Stafford, Eugene Cernan and Wally Schirra, who set up a website to collect funds for
Ary's defense (below) -- believed Ary's claim
that it was an honest mistake.
The Cosmosphere "really was my life" for the better part of 50
years, Ary told the court Monday before his sentencing. The Eagle
reports Ary -- who built the former Hutchinson, KS planetarium into
one of the nation's premier space museums -- told the judge that he
poured his livelihood into the museum, in a heartfelt attempt to
take the Cosmosphere "to the next level."
"Did I make mistakes? Sure," Ary said before his sentencing,
adding the trial had been a "surreal experience."
Judge Marten acknowledged the high level of support of Ary, and
he admitted that was a factor in his deliberations.
"This is not a day for vengeance and retribution," Judge Marten
told Ary. Nevertheless, "I think a prison sentence in your case is
Lee Thompson, Ary's attorney, had argued for probation for his
client -- adding that would better allow Ary to pay off his debt to