My post on the moon-rock sting operation that went down at a Denny's restaurant in California, together with what was apparently a serious need to take a break from studying for the bar exam, led a reader to do some additional research. What he uncovered is quite disturbing.
The published opinion I referred to in my earlier post, United States v. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material (One Moon Rock), involves a previous sting operation in which the government was able to recover the moon rock that the U.S. gave Honduras in 1973. (I wrote about this case last year for Forbes.com, and have had it on my Comical Case Names page for a while, for obvious reasons, but I guess I haven't written about it here yet. I've added a link on that page to the opinion.)
In 1994, a man who was in Honduras on business "learned from a friend that a retired colonel from the Honduran military was seeking to sell a moon rock," which he said he had received "as a gift after a coup d'etat sometime around 1973." Despite the fact that this gift presumably had great sentimental value, the colonel was "quite anxious to sell it." Since there's nothing remotely suspicious about this kind of offer, and after he learned that a few specks of lunar dust had recently sold at auction for $500,000, the man returned to Honduras the next year and arranged to buy the item.
So far, this is just your run-of-the-mill buy-a-moon-rock-from-a-retired-Honduran-military-officer transaction, but here it gets a little weird. The seller arranged to have someone bring the moon rock (and the plaque on which it was mounted) to Miami for the exchange. As the reader pointed out to me, "the meeting took place at a Denny's restaurant near the airport." (Emphasis added.)
Given what I assume is a very low number of transactions involving lunar material, what are the odds that two of them would have taken place at Denny's? Even more suspicious: the earlier meeting took place in Miami, and Denny's features an item called "Moons Over My Hammy"!
Emphasis added again!
After receiving the item, the buyer had it analyzed, and the composition of the rock was found to be "consistent with lunar material." (This was not necessarily a given, despite the plaque – in 2009, the Netherlands discovered that its moon rock was actually just a piece of petrified wood.) He just had to sell it to cash in.
Eventually, he heard from some people who seemed interested, and they were interested, but only because they were federal agents. A meeting was arranged, which according to the opinion took place "at a restaurant in North Miami Beach." The restaurant is not identified, but based on the number of Denny's restaurants in that area (see map, right), it is entirely possible, maybe even potentially likely, that Denny's was again involved.
The menu item apparently predates the 1996 meeting by quite a few years, so it may be that further research will uncover yet more evidence about this previously unknown link between Denny's and the shadowy trade in illicit lunar material. Any law student needing an excuse to stop studying is encouraged to dive into this issue.