image

Photo of seized dino fossil, courtesy photo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Last year, we brought news of a Florida man arrested in connection with a scheme to import dinosaur fossils. Here is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement release on the latest developments in the case:

Florida man pleads guilty in New York to smuggling dinosaur fossils

Dec. 28, 2012

NEW YORK – A Florida man pleaded guilty Dec. 27 to his part in a scheme to illegally import dinosaur fossils that had been smuggled out of their native country. This guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

As part of his plea agreement, Eric Prokopi, 38, agreed to the forfeiture of a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (the First bataar), which was looted from Mongolia and sold at auction in Manhattan for over $1 million. The First bataar was the subject of a separate pending civil forfeiture action. Prokopi also agreed to forfeit a second nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, a Saurolophus skeleton, and an Oviraptor skeleton, all of which he possessed and were recently recovered by the government. In addition, Prokopi will forfeit his interest in a third Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton believed to be located in Great Britain. All of the fossils originated in Mongolia. The skeleton of a Chinese flying dinosaur that Prokopi illegally imported has already been administratively forfeited.

According to court documents, and statements made in Manhattan federal court, Prokopi owned and ran a business out of his Florida home. He bought and sold whole and partial fossilized dinosaur skeletons. Between 2010 and 2012, he acquired dinosaur fossils from foreign countries and transported them to the United States, misrepresenting the contents of shipments on customs forms, officials said. Many of the fossils were taken from Mongolia in violation of Mongolian laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Government of Mongolia, and criminalizing their export from the country.

Prokopi worked with others to bring these dinosaur fossils into the United States, using false or misleading statements on customs forms concerning their identity, origin and value, authorities said. He then sold or attempted to sell these fossils.

Among the fossils procured, transported or sold in this fashion were the first bataar and an additional nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (the second bataar), two Saurolophus skeletons, one of which was sold to the I.M. Chait Gallery in California for $75,000, and two Oviraptor skeletons. The Saurolophus skeleton sold to the auction house was seized in September 2012. The remaining Saurolophus skeleton and the Oviraptor skeletons were recovered from Prokopi during the investigation.

Tyrannosaurus bataar was a carnivorous dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago. The Saurolophus, which also lived during the late Cretaceous period, was a duckbilled, plant-eating dinosaur. The Oviraptor, of the same time period, featured a parrot-like skull.

Earlier, in 2010, Prokopi illegally imported the fossilized remains of a small, flying dinosaur from China, by directing another individual to make false claims on importation paperwork, authorities said.

Prokopi pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in connection with the Chinese flying dinosaur, one count of entry of goods by means of false statements for the Mongolian dinosaurs, and one count of interstate and foreign transportation of goods converted and taken by fraud.

In addition, Prokopi has agreed to forfeit the proceeds of his offense, including but not limited to, the first bataar, the second bataar, any and all interest in the Tyrannosaurus skeleton believed to be in Great Britain, the Saurolophus and Oviraptor skeletons that had been in Prokopi’s custody, and any and all other fossil parts of Mongolian origin that Prokopi brought into the country between 2010 and 2012.