US dinosaur thief smuggled fossils from China, Mongolia
Eric Prokopi a 'one-man black market in prehistoric fossils'
A US man has been charged with smuggling dinosaur fossils into America from China and Mongolia.
Eric Prokopi, 38, is accused of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, smuggling into the United States, and selling stolen goods, which carry possible sentences of five, 20 and 10 years in prison respectively.
Among the fossils he is alleged to have smuggled is an almost complete Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton from Mongolia, federal prosecutors said.
New York chief federal prosecutor Preet Bharara called Prokopi a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils” and said the earlier seizure of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from the Florida dealer was “merely the tip of the iceberg.”
Prokopi tried to sell the Tyrannosaurus bataar at auction in New York in May this year, but Mongolia’s government claimed the bones were illegally removed from the Central Asian country and could not be sold. US authorities impounded the remains shortly after.
Among other fossils imported by Prokopi, prosecutors allege, were a Saurolophus later sold to a California gallery, a Gallimimus and Oviraptor mongoliensis from Mongolia and the remains of a Microraptor, a small, flying dinosaur, from China.
Prokopi, who has denied trafficking, spent a year restoring and remounting what had been a loose collection of bones to recreate the skeleton, said Heritage Auctions, which attempted to sell the dinosaur on his behalf.
He was expected to appear before New York federal court on October 22, Bharara said.
Bharara told the presiding Florida judge that strict conditions should be put on 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.”
“Overall, there is a significant risk of flight,” Bharara concluded.