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

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

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.


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