Sunday 30 December 2012

Dinosaur smuggler changes plea to guilty.

In May this year (2012), Florida-based fossil dealer Eric Prokopi sold a specimen of the Cretaceous Tyranosaurid, Tarbosaurus bataar, at an auction house in New York for slightly over US$1 million. Unfortunately for Prokopi, Tarbosaurus bataar is only known from two countries, Mongolia and China, both of which have fairly stringent laws on the exportation of Dinosaur fossils, and the sale came to the attention of a number of professional palaeontologists, who raised the matter with the authorities in New York, leading to a police investigation, which lead to the confiscation of the New York fossil and a number of other specimens, as well as Prokopi's arrest.

The Tarbosaur skull confiscated by Police in New York. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

At the time Prokopi was keen to present himself as an honest businessman being victimized by the heavy-handed state, but in October 2012 Prokopi was re-arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's special agents, during which event a truck arrived at his house carrying around 200 kg of additional fossils, suggesting that he might have been a larger player in the smuggling trade than he had been willing to admit.

Prokopi has now decided to enter a guilty plea and cooperate with the authorities in return for a reduced sentence; he has been charged with Conspiring to Smuggle Illegal Goods, Possessing Stolen Goods and Making False Statements to Customs Officials, and faces a potential prison sentence of 17 years in gaol and up to $250 000 in fines. 

As part of the plea bargain Pokopi has surrendered rights to the New York Dinosaur, as well as a second Tarbosaurus bataar specimen, two Hadrosaurs, two Oviraptors, a Microraptor and a variety of other objects. He has also agreed to cooperate with investigations into the theft and smuggling of Mongolian fossils.

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