Earlier this week, federal agents arrested a Florida resident who one official claimed ran a “one-man black market” in imported dinosaur fossils. Details below are from the Immigration and Customs Service release:

New York, NYHSI arrests Florida man for illegally importing dinosaur fossils
October 17, 2012

NEW YORK – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations special agents arrested Eric Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, Fla., earlier today for multiple crimes relating to a scheme to illegally import dinosaur fossils into the United States, including a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia, a Saurolophus angustirostris skeleton, also from Mongolia, and a Microraptor skeleton from China.

Prokopi was arrested Wednesday morning by HSI special agents at his home and is charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property and make false statements.

Court records allege Prokopi runs a business called “Everything Earth” out of his home and is a self-described “commercial paleontologist.” He buys and sells whole and partial fossilized dinosaur skeletons. Between 2010 and 2012, the defendant acquired dinosaur fossils from foreign countries and unlawfully transported them to the United States, misrepresenting the contents of the shipments on customs forms. Many of the fossils in Prokopis possession were indigenous to Mongolia and could only be found in that country. In fact, Mongolian officials have uncovered a witness who accompanied Prokopi to an excavation site in 2009 and observed him physically taking bones out of the ground. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Mongolian government and criminalizing their export from the country.

One of the fossils Prokopi allegedly imported into the U.S. is the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus bataar, a dinosaur that lived approximately 70 million years ago. When importing this skeleton, he made a number of misrepresentations about its identity, origin and value, according to authorities. The Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was sold at an auction in Manhattan for more than $1 million, pending the resolution of court proceedings that were instituted on behalf of the Mongolian government in an effort to reclaim the skeleton prior to the sale, but after the auction materials were published. When he heard about the court proceedings, Prokopi responded by emailing an individual who works for Heritage Auctions – the institution that put the skeleton up for sale – stating, in part, “If (the Mongolian president) only wants to take the skeleton and try to put an end to the black market, he will have a fight and will only drive the black market deeper underground.”

Prokopi also allegedly imported from Mongolia the skeleton of a Saurolophus angustirostris that he ultimately sold to the I.M. Chait gallery in California. In addition, Prokopi allegedly sold the fossils of two other dinosaurs native to Mongolia, Gallimimus and Oviraptor mongoliensis, and imported the fossilized remains of a Microraptor, a small, flying dinosaur from China.

The arrest follows an earlier civil suit filed by the U.S. Attorneys Office Southern District of New York seeking forfeiture of the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton so that it can be returned to Mongolia. That action is pending.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated, “As alleged, our recent seizure of the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Eric Prokopi was merely the tip of the iceberg – our investigation uncovered a one-man black market in prehistoric fossils.”

HSI NY Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes Jr. said, “We want to make this illegal business practice extinct in the U.S. This fossil is a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of the Mongolian people.”