May 17, 2010 San Bernardino County Sun, Calif. MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE -- An anonymous donation means there is a $125,000 reward posted for tips leading to the conviction of whoever stole a cross that served as a memorial to Americans who served during World War I. A decorated military veteran offered $100,000 for the reward, said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Institute. That figure was added to the previous $25,000 offer. Liberty Institute is a conservative organization based in Plano, Texas, that is defending veterans groups who want the cross to stay in Mojave National Preserve. The cross stood at Sunrise Rock, which is about 15 miles south of the 15 Freeway along Cima Road. The missing cross was at the center of a prolonged legal fight over the government's relationship with organized religion. Before its theft, the memorial stood on public land, and a former preserve official filed suit in 2001 arguing that the cross represented an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity by the federal government. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, later backed legislation to transfer the cross site to Veterans of Foreign Wars. The law was intended to end any church-state conflicts, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the transfer in 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled 5-4 in April that the lower court erred. The nation's highest court sent the issue back to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration. The cross vanished from its spot on Sunrise Rock sometime between May 9 and the following morning. National Park Service rangers are investigating the theft. The Desert Dispatch newspaper in Barstow published on May 11 an anonymous letter from a writer who claimed to be a veteran knowing who stole the cross. The cross, the letter writer asserted, was stolen not to insult Christianity but to oppose government-sponsored sectarianism, or favoritism to an established church. The writer claimed the cross would be returned to its caretaker if it could be replaced by a nonsectarian memorial or erected on private land. The Desert Dispatch did not vouch for the letter's veracity. Mojave National Preserve Ranger Linda Slater said as of Friday afternoon, the theft was still being investigated and that she had no knowledge of the anonymous letter leading to a breakthrough in the case. The missing cross was not the first cross at Sunrise Rock. The memorial was designed as a metal pipe replica of the memorial that veterans first placed at the location in 1934. If the stolen memorial is not recovered, cross supporters want an identical one in its place. "Our intention is to replace it with exactly the same memorial that's been there," Shackelford said.