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Probation in fossil case

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 TUCSON, Ariz. – A Canadian man indicted on federal charges for selling Chinese dinosaur fossils last year at a local gem show was sentenced Monday to five years’ unsupervised probation and fined $25,000, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Jun Yang, 37, who served as president of Arctic Products, Inc., based in Richmond, British Columbia, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson.

Yang was indicted in Tucson after HSI special agents working in an undercover capacity purchased 13 illegally imported fossilized dinosaur eggs from him at last year’s Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, according to ICE. In addition to the Hadrosaur eggs, which Yang priced $450 each, he was also seeking to sell a Psittacosaurus fossil for $15,000. Psittacosaurus, meaning parrot lizard, was a relatively small dinosaur and an early relative of the Triceratops.  More

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Rock art dino returned to China

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Microraptor fossil. Courtesy ICE

Another microraptor is headed back to China after being smuggled out of the country by a Florida operation that allegedly tried to pass it and other artifacts off as rock art returning after touring overseas.
Sounds convoluted? ICE sorts it out in the release below.

ICE returns Dino fossil, artifacts to ChinaDec. 10, 2015

WASHINGTON – A microraptor fossil estimated to be approximately 120 million years old was returned to the government of China Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In addition to the microraptor fossil, ICE also returned jade disks, bronze trays and other items, dating back as far as 1600 BCE to the Chinese government.

The artifacts were recovered by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in New York, Cleveland and Miami. The fossil was falsely manifested as a “craft rock” and later as a “fossil replica” to conceal the shipment’s true contents.

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Probation in Dino smuggling case

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One of four micro raptor fossils. Photo courtesy of ICE

A judge has sentenced Charles Magovern, a Colorado fossil collector whose discovery was once featured on the cover of National Geographic, to a year of probation for his role in an operation that smuggled dinosaur fossils from China. Court records identify another person charged as John Rolater, who was accused of selling fossils at stores in Wyoming and Colorado.

Here’s the latest from ICE:

Colorado dinosaur fossil smuggler sentenced in Wyoming

Oct. 14, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Colorado man was sentenced in Wyoming last week for his role in a multi-person conspiracy to smuggle dinosaur fossils from China to the United States after hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossils were imported by mislabeling and concealing them within legitimate cargo.
Special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case. It was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Wyoming.

Charles Magovern, 67, of Boulder, Colorado, was sentenced in Wyoming federal court to one year supervised probation for smuggling paleontological specimens and aiding abetting. As part of an agreement made with the government, Magovern also returned all fossils under his control.

Magovern possessed the following fossils:

A Chinese Sinovenator, which is about 120 to 130 million years old and valued at about $70,000;

An Anchiornis Huxley, which is about 151 to 161 million years old and valued at about $100,000;

A Protoceratops, which is about 71 to 86 million years old and valued at about $250,000; and

Four Micro-Raptors, which are about 124 to 128 million years old and valued at about $38,000 to $45,000 each.

Importing Chinese and Mongolian fossils into the U.S. is a violation of federal law and both countries have extensive laws that specifically protect prehistoric fossils, and prevent their export.

A tip from the public received in 2012 alerted HSI special agents to the information that eventually led to Magovern’s conviction. 

Forfeiture ordered in dino fossil smuggling case

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In September, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped a Mongolian dinosaur from sneaking into the country from France. This week, a federal judge sided with the government in its seizure, which means it can be returned to Mongolia.

Here’s the update from ICE:

HSI seizes Mongolian dinosaur fossil
12/02/2014

NEW YORK — A decree of forfeiture was issued Tuesday in federal court forfeiting a fossilized skull and vertebrae of an Alioramus dinosaur after it was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Upon its Sept. 4 arrival in the United States from France, the Dinosaur Skull was seized by CBP. Federal authorities then filed a civil action to forfeit the dinosaur skull, alleging that it was stolen Mongolian property that was smuggled into the United States using false declarations. The allegations in the United States’ complaint went uncontested and the court ordered the forfeiture of the dinosaur skull.

The Alioramus was a dinosaur that lived in the late Cretaceous period, approximately 65 to 70 million years ago. It is related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Tarbosaurus.

The Dinosaur Skull was falsely described as a French replica when it was shipped to the United States by Geofossiles, Inc., a French fossil dealer. More

Sauropod sample stolen

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Taken from slightly different angles, these before (left) and after photos show the recent damage to the dinosaur fossil, Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Taken from slightly different angles, these before (left) and after photos show the recent damage to the dinosaur fossil, Photo courtesy National Park Service.

The National Park Service is offering a reward for information leading to the conviction in the case of a damaged sauropod sample at Dinosaur National Monument, which skirts the Colorado-Utah border. The section of leg bone appears to have been chiseled from the fossil and removed. Here’s the NPS account of the damage:

Rangers Discover Damage and Theft of Fossil 

Dinosaur, CO — Rangers are seeking information related to recent fossil damage and theft on the Fossil Discovery Trail at Dinosaur National Monument.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, a park ranger leading a guided walk discovered damage to a fossilized humerus bone from a sauropod dinosaur located along the trail. The damage was not evident the previous day.

Rangers are requesting that anyone with information on the fossil damage to contact the monument at (435) 781-7715. A $750 reward will be provided for information that leads to a conviction.

The Fossil Discovery Trail is a 1.2 mile trail that runs between the Quarry Visitor Center and the Quarry Exhibit Hall where the famous wall of dinosaur bones is located. The trail is unique as it is one of the few places where visitors can hike to see and touch unexcavated dinosaur fossils and fragments in situ; or still in place. It allows visitors to experience what it may have been like for paleontologist Earl Douglass when he discovered the first fossils in what is now the monument. While the fossils have limited scientific value, they have a great value for the educational experience they provide to visitors and students who hike the trail.

Visitors are reminded that all fossils, rocks, plants, animals and cultural artifacts located within Dinosaur National Monument are protected and may not be collected.

Smuggled bones, poached eggs returned to Mongolia

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Dino bones, fossil eggs and a Carte d'Or vanilla ice cream tub were returned to Mongolia. Photo courtesy Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This week, the smuggled remains of Mongolian dinosaurs and poached eggs (their words) were returned, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
 

Dinosaur skeletons, egg returned to Mongolia


July 10, 2014

NEW YORK — Several dinosaur skeletons and a fossilized egg looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the United States were returned to the government of Mongolia Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. HSI special agents seized the items during two separate investigations and determined they were illegally poached and smuggled out of Mongolia between 2005 and 2012.

The Mongolian government received:

Saurolophus Angustirostris (Hadrosaur) skeleton;

Oviraptor matrix containing the remains of at least five Oviraptor skeletons;

Nearly complete Tyrannosaurs Bataar skeleton;

Nearly complete Saurolophus Angustirostris (Hadrosaur) skeleton;

Nearly complete Oviraptor skeleton

Oviraptor Egg

HSI seized the majority of the skeletons from Eric Prokopi, a commercial paleontologist. Eight different seizures included at least 31 fossilized dinosaur remains, as well as lizard and turtle skeletons. On June 3, Prokopi was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to three months incarceration and one year and three months supervised release on charges related to smuggling, conspiracy and sale or receipt of stolen goods.

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Dino smuggling plea after skeleton found in closet

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A Wyoming fossil dealer has pleaded to dinosaur smuggling charges after Customs agents found a skeleton in his closet. Well, not a complete skeleton. Just the skull of a T-Bataar that had been sneaked out of Mongolia. And, technically, it wasn’t his closet. It was rented by the store’s director, but the dealer was the landlord.

The skull had been a centerpiece at Wyoming store until news broke of an earlier T-Bataar smuggling case out of New York. Then it was closet time.

Agents found a collection of other fossils, including another Bataar skull hiding in a crawlspace at the dealer’s home, authorities said.

Here is what Immigration and Customs Enforcement said about the case:

Wyoming fossil retailer pleads guilty to smuggling dinosaur and other fossils into the US

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —A Wyoming fossil retailer pleaded guilty Thursday to an Information charging conspiracy to smuggle dinosaur and other fossilized bones into the United States from China and Mongolia.

This guilty plea was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming. This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

John Richard Rolater, 69, pleaded guilty to the charge and also agreed to surrender any and all contraband vertebrate fossils he has, which include the following fossils from China: a saber-toothed cat skull, a Feilongus fossil, an Anchiornis Huxleyi fossil and a Darwinopterus fossil.

As part of the plea agreement, Rolater also agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, and to two years of supervised probation. A formal sentencing date has not yet been set.

Rolater owns and operates two “By Nature Gallery” retail stores in Jackson, Wyo., and Beaver Creek, Colo.

This investigation began in June 2012 following a hot-line tip which was forwarded to HSI special agents in Casper, Wyo. The tipster reported that a Tyrannosaurus Bataar fossilized skull being sold by Rolater in his Jackson, Wyo., store was originally from Mongolia. However, immediately after the HSI seizure of a separate Bataar skull was publicized in New York, the Bataar skull displayed in Rolater’s Jackson, Wyo., store was removed. HSI special agents obtained a search warrant and discovered the skull June 22, 2012 hidden in a closet of the rented residence of the store’s director, which was owned by Rolater.

HSI special agents executed another search warrant at Rolater’s Eagle, Colo., residence Aug. 1, 2012. They discovered and seized the following items: a fossilized Gallimimus foot, six computers, two electronic storage devices, a box of business documents from Rolater, and a fossilized juvenile Bataar skull, which was hidden in the crawl space of Rolater’s house.

Both China and Mongolia have extensive cultural patrimony laws that specifically protect prehistoric fossils.

During this investigation, HSI seized the following smuggled fossils, which will ultimately be repatriated back to their country of origin:

Micro-Raptor (4), total value $173,000
Bataar Skull (3) $1,875,000
Dinosaur Eggs (10) $5,075
Bataar lower leg (1) $75,000
Keichosaurus (15) $3,990
Gallimimus foot (1) $18,750
Sinovenator (2) $70,000
Protoceratops (1) $100,000
Anchiormis (1) $30,000
Gallimimus skeleton (1) $100,000

Wild horn face, down by the river

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Researchers recently announced the discovery of a 15,000 pound dinosaur in Big Bend National Park. The discovery, actually made two years ago and kept under wraps pending further study, turned out to be a new species of dino that roamed the park as long as 75 million years ago (for those keeping track, that’s 75,000,002 years ago).

Below is the National Park Service announcement:

Horned Dinosaur Discovery
Date: June 10, 2013

Earlier this month, researchers with the U.S. National Park Service and Texas Tech University unveiled a new species of horned dinosaur, Bravoceratops polyphemus, recently discovered in Big Bend National Park.

Steven L. Wick and Thomas M. Lehman made the initial discovery two years ago following several months of field work. They were able to recover portions of the giant skull. Bravoceratops (“wild horn-face”) is named after the Rio Bravo del Norte (aka Rio Grande), which marks the border between Big Bend National Park and northern Mexico. The new find was first reported online in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

Bravoceratopspolyphemus was one of the largest members of a group of horned dinosaurs called chasmosaurines, which lived during the Late Cretaceous Period from about 75-65 million years ago. In life, the animal had a skull about seven feet in length, with both its brow horns each over three feet long. Among the chasmosaurines, Bravoceratops was very similar in size to its better known cousin, Triceratops, which weighed up to an estimated 15,000 pounds. Although Bravoceratops was a plant-eater, its large size, long horns, and bony frill likely protected it from large predators, acted as means to intimidate rivals, and attract mates.

The discovery is especially exciting given that Big Bend National Park is currently developing a new fossil bone exhibit to showcase many of the most spectacular finds from the park. In partnership with the Friends of Big Bend National Park (http://www.bigbendfriends.org/), a full-size replica of the skull of Bravoceratops is currently being considered for the new display.

More dino bones forfeited

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the United States, to the government of Mongolia, on May 6, 2013, during a repatriation ceremony at a Manhattan hotel. Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the United States, to the government of Mongolia, on May 6, 2013, during a repatriation ceremony at a Manhattan hotel. Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Last week we told you about a looted Bataar skeleton that was returned to Mongolia. This week we have more liberated dino fossils. Here is the customs release on the case:

HSI recovers additional dinosaur fossils
May 10, 2013

NEW YORK – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has recovered additional dinosaur fossils the agency plans to return to the Government of Mongolia. This forfeiture is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

In addition to a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton previously forfeited to the United States – and successfully repatriated by ICE to the Mongolian government May 6 by ICE Director John Morton – U.S. District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel signed a judgment May 9 forfeiting other dinosaur fossils.

The new items forfeited include:

A Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton (the second Bataar);

One Saurolophus Angustirostris skeleton (the Hadrosaur);

One Oviraptor matrix containing at least five Oviraptor skeletons (the Raptor Matrix); and

An additional Oviraptor skeleton (the Raptor).

U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer signed a stipulation May 1 arranging for the return of other fossils including:

An additional Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton (the third Bataar);

A rock slab containing two Gallimimus skeletons (the Gallimimus slab);

Two additional Gallimimus skeletons;

An Ankylosaurus skeleton and skull;

A Protoceratops skeleton; and

One restored composite egg nest display piece made of composite dinosaur egg fossils.

These additional items were provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York by Christopher Moore, a British citizen.

“Through this investigation, HSI special agents around the country have seized numerous dinosaur skeletons that are pending repatriation to the government of Mongolia,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York.

According to court documents, the Tyrannosaurus Bataar – indigenous to what is now Mongolia – was a dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period approximately 70 million years ago. It was first discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert in the Mongolian Ömnögovi Province. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Government of Mongolia, and criminalizing their export from the country.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Bataar skeleton and several other dinosaur fossils from Mongolia were imported illegally into the United States. The customs importation documents contained several false statements. First, the country of origin of the fossils was erroneously listed. In addition, the value of the fossils was substantially understated on the importation documents. Finally, the fossils were incorrectly described.

Texas-based Heritage Auctions Inc. offered the Bataar for sale at an auction conducted in New York City. Prior to the sale, the Government of Mongolia sought – and a Texas judge granted – a temporary restraining order prohibiting the auctioning, sale, release or transfer of the Bataar.

Notwithstanding the order, Heritage Auctions completed the auction and the Bataar skeleton sold for $1.05 million. HSI special agents seized the Bataar and a forfeiture action was initiated. Judge Castel entered a judgment Feb. 14 forfeiting the Bataar skeleton to the United States for its return to Mongolia.

A concurrent HSI investigation revealed that several additional Mongolian dinosaur fossils had been illegally taken from Mongolia, including the Second Bataar and the Raptor. During the investigation, Christopher Moore, a British fossil dealer, contacted the U.S. attorney’s office and informed the office of his possession of the Moore dinosaurs. Upon being advised that the Moore dinosaurs had been stolen from Mongolia, he agreed to send them to the U.S. government for their return to Mongolia.

Meanwhile, two additional dinosaur fossils – the Hadrosaur and the Raptor Matrix – were at one point in the possession of an auction house in California. The auction house agreed to assist in facilitating their return to Mongolia, consenting to the forfeiture of both items.

All of these fossils will now be returned to Mongolia as part of HSI’s efforts to facilitate the repatriation of fossils involved in this case.

Dino repatriated

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ICE and Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office return Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton to Mongolia

May 6, 2013

NEW YORK – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the United States, to the government of Mongolia Monday during a repatriation ceremony at a Manhattan hotel. The Bataar was seized in New York by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations special agents after it sold at a Manhattan auction for $1.05 million.

The return of this cultural property to Mongolia is the culmination of an investigation led by HSI New York and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The repatriation ceremony was conducted by ICE Director John Morton; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara; Chief of Office of the President of Mongolia Tsagaan Puntsag and Mongolian Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism Oyungerel Tsedevdamba.

The nearly complete Bataar skeleton, together with fossils of several other dinosaurs discovered by HSI, was illegally poached and smuggled out of Mongolia between 2005 and 2012.

The Tyrannosaurus Bataar was originally discovered and named Tarbosaurus Bataar by Russian paleontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Maleev in 1953. It was a carnivorous dinosaur, native to Mongolia, which lived during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 70 million years ago. Bataar fossils have very specific coloration. They were first discovered in 1946, during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert in the Mongolian Ömnögovi Province.

For almost a century, Mongolian law has firmly established that all paleontological findings are government property and part of the nation’s rich cultural heritage. Since 1924, the Mongolian government has prohibited personal ownership and criminalized the export of items of cultural significance, such as dinosaur remains.

On May 19, HSI special agents in New York received information from the U.S. Department of State that a Bataar skeleton from Mongolia was scheduled to be auctioned in New York May 20. The President of Mongolia asked for assistance in preventing the sale of the skeleton. He hired a private attorney in Texas, who obtained a temporary restraining order from the Dallas County District Court to prevent the sale of the skeleton. On May 20, Texas-based Heritage Auctions Inc., disregarded the state court order and went forward with the sale of the Bataar skeleton. It sold for $1.05 million. The sale, however, was contingent upon the outcome of any court proceedings instituted on behalf of the Mongolian government.

According to court documents filed in Manhattan federal court, on March 27, 2010, the Bataar skeleton was imported into the United States from Great Britain. The import documents contained several inaccuracies. First, the country of origin of the Bataar skeleton was erroneously listed as Great Britain, but according to several paleontologists, Tyrannosaurus Bataars have only been recovered in Mongolia. In addition, the Bataar skeleton was substantially undervalued on the import documents. Customs forms listed its value at $15,000, in contrast to the $950,000 to $1.5 million list price in a 2012 auction catalog and the actual auction sale price of $1.05 million. The Bataar skeleton was also incorrectly described as two large, rough fossil reptile heads; six boxes of broken fossil bones; three rough fossil reptiles; one fossil lizard; three rough fossil reptiles and one fossil reptile skull.

On May 22, the President of Mongolia sent a letter to SDNY formally requesting the office’s assistance in preserving Mongolia’s cultural heritage by seeking forfeiture of the Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton.”

On June 5, at the request of the President of Mongolia, several paleontologists specializing in Tyrannosaurus Bataars examined the Bataar skeleton. They concluded that it is a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton that was unearthed from the western Gobi Desert in Mongolia between 1995 and 2005. On June 18, SDNY filed a civil action seeking the forfeiture of the Bataar skeleton and the district court issued a warrant authorizing HSI to seize the Bataar skeleton.

On Sept. 24, SDNY filed an amended civil forfeiture complaint which included the original paleontological reports, as well as additional reports from those same paleontologists and others. The additional reports definitively state that the Bataar skeleton came from Mongolia based on the particularized coloring of the bones.

On Oct. 17, HSI special agents arrested Eric Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, Fla., the importer of the Bataar skeleton, on one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property, and make false statements; one count of smuggling goods into the United States and one count of interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods. Prokopi, a self-described “commercial paleontologist” was arrested on charges stemming from his illegal importation of the Bataar and other dinosaur fossils into the United States.

On Dec. 27, shortly after his arrest, Prokopi pleaded guilty to engaging in a scheme to illegally import the fossilized remains of numerous dinosaurs that had been illegally removed from their native countries illegally and smuggled into the United States. As part of his plea agreement, Prokopi consented to the forfeiture of the Bataar skeleton. Prokopi also agreed to forfeit a second, nearly complete Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton; a Saurolophus skeleton and an Oviraptor skeleton. The skeletons were in his possession but have since been seized by HSI special agents. He further agreed to forfeit his interest in a third Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, which was located in Great Britain.

On Feb. 14, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, SDNY, entered a judgment forfeiting the Bataar skeleton to the United States for its return to Mongolia.

Chinese flying Dino plea

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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.

Dino fossil arrest

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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.”

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