NEW YORK, Dec 27 (Reuters) - A Florida man described by
federal prosecutors as a "one-man black market in prehistoric
fossils" pleaded guilty on Thursday to smuggling dinosaur
skeletons into the United States.
Eric Prokopi was accused of importing and selling stolen
artifacts including a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus Bataar
skeleton and skeletons of a duckbilled Saurolophus
Angustirostris from Mongolia and a flying Oviraptor from China,
according to the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in
The 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, a
cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, became the subject of an
international custody battle when the U.S. government seized it
after it was sold in May for $1.05 million in a sale conducted
by Heritage Auctions in Manhattan.
The seizure and charges against Prokopi stemmed from
Mongolia's claim that the skeleton had been stolen from the Gobi
Desert and should be returned. Mongolia is rich in dinosaur
fossils and forbids their removal for private gain.
Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, Florida, pleaded guilty before
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis in Manhattan to conspiracy,
entry of goods by means of false statements, and the interstate
and foreign transportation of goods taken by fraud.
He faces up to 10 years in prison on the last and most
serious count, as well as possible fines, and is scheduled to be
sentenced on April 25. Prokopi also agreed to forfeit several
skeletons and other fossils.
Lawyers for Prokopi were not immediately available to
Prokopi was a commercial paleontologist who bought and sold
whole and partial fossilized dinosaur skeletons.
Prosecutors said that between 2010 and 2012, he acquired
dinosaur fossils from foreign countries and illegally brought
them into the United States, misrepresenting the contents of
shipments on customs forms.
"Fossils and ancient skeletal remains are part of the fabric
of a country's natural history and cultural heritage, and black
marketeers like Prokopi who illegally export and sell these
wonders, steal a slice of that history," Bharara said in a
statement. "We are pleased that we can now begin the process of
returning these prehistoric fossils to their countries of
At the time of Prokopi's arrest in October, Bharara said the
investigation had "uncovered a one-man black market in
The case is U.S. v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, a/k/a
Lot 49315 Listed on Page 92 of the Heritage Auctions May 20,
2012 Natural History Auction Catalog, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 12-04760.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)