U.S. Citizen Arrested over Suspected Dinosaur Bone Smuggling
The complicated story of the auctioned Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton took a dramatic turn this week with American officials confirming that a Florida resident had been arrested over the suspected smuggling of dinosaur fossils into the United States.
Back in May of this year, team members reported on the auction of an eight-metre-long tyrannosaurid fossil skeleton (Tarbosaurus bataar) that has been sold at Heritage Auctions in New York for more than one million USD. The ownership of the fossil was disputed and the Mongolian government accused the sellers of the seventy million year old fossil material of smuggling the fossil material illegally out of their country.
To read the original article on the dinosaur fossil auction: T. bataar Bites Back.
Mr Eric Prokopi, of Florida was charged this week with conspiracy to smuggle illegal items into the United States and for selling stolen goods. If found guilty, Mr Prokopi could be facing a possible jail sentence of twenty years.
New York chief federal prosecutor Preet Bharara called Prokopi a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils” and claimed the earlier seizure of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from the Florida dealer was “merely the tip of the iceberg.”
The mounted tyrannosaurid specimen has been at the centre of a six-month-long dispute as the Mongolian government claim that the bones were illegally removed from the Central Asian country and could not be sold. U.S. customs officials impounded the remains shortly after.
The Mounted Tarbosaurus Fossil Specimen at the Centre of the Dispute
Prokopi, who has denied trafficking, spent a year restoring and remounting what had been a loose collection of bones to recreate the skeleton, the fossils were originally supplied to Mr Prokopi from a fossil dealer based in southern England.
The Florida dealer is also accused of illegally importing a Saurolophus angustirostris (duck-billed dinosaur) skeleton from Mongolia and a Microraptor (Microraptor gui) skeleton from China.
According to state officials the defendant is likely to appear in a New York Federal Court next week (October 22nd)
Bharara told the presiding Florida judge that strict conditions should be put on Mr Prokopi’s bail, because “the allegations against the defendant are unusual. Among other things, the Complaint sets forth a pattern of frequent international travel and manipulation of United States customs forms.”
Preet Bharara concluded by stating:
“Overall, there is a significant risk of flight.”