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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. 

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Kiln ruins

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It’s not often that I have to caution my son to rein in some feat of potentially dangerous exploration. He’s usually a pretty safe 12 year old. Sure, there are plenty of times I chime in when he’s about to undertake something dangerous in the name of stupidity, but usually he’s smart when it comes to taking chances.

That’s where I found myself last week as he was about to top the roof of the remnents of an old bee hive kiln that was left almost forgotten in a forest. Nothing says “come closer” than a crumbling building in the woods, and nothing says “climb me” like an ancient iron ladder.

We discovered the ruins during a hot day of fossil hunting when we decided to take shelter from the sun and headed for a copse of trees on the edge of the open pit quarry we had been exploring. Seeking thicker folliage cover, we followed a small path deeper into the trees, past piles of discarded drainage tile shards and a mangled bicycle frame until we noticed the buildings peeking through the vegitation.

When my son mounted the ladder, which was part of the kiln’s outer wall, I was ok with climbing to the safe-looking catwalk that ringed the structure. I figured, if it gave out, it was a short distance to the ground below. But a fall from the roof would mean a longer drop and include crumbling brick debris. After a short debate, he took my advice, and we walked the catwalk without incident.

There had originally been 16 of the two-story domed kilns, lined up in rows on the outskirts of the small river town. At its peak, the plant quarried rock and baked brick and tile. I couldn’t determine when it shut down, but the local county government got the land in 1991 and turned it into a park, allowing fossil hunting in the Devonian-era sediment. Collecting is easy because layers didn’t turn to hard stone.

All that remains of the brick operation are four beehive kilns — three in good shape with some apparent effforts at preservation or possibly restoration, and the fourth a litte further back, deeper into the trees and covered in plant life.

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

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