Fossil dealer Eric Prokopi pleads guilty to smuggling
BY LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press
Friday, December 28, 2012
12/28/12 at 5:54 AM
NEW YORK - A Florida fossils dealer pleaded guilty to smuggling charges Thursday and agreed to give up a celebrated $1 million dinosaur skeleton seized by the U.S. government earlier this year for its eventual return to Mongolia.
Eric Prokopi, 38, said he would surrender the 70 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton known as "Ty" and give up any claims to six other dinosaurs and various other bones in a cooperation deal that might win him leniency from charges that carry a potential prison sentence of up to 17 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin S. Bell read a list of the dinosaurs to Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis, saying a second substantially complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton was found at Prokopi's Gainesville, Fla., home, while a third was believed to be in Great Britain.
Bell said the government will also get to keep a Chinese flying dinosaur that Prokopi illegally imported; a skeleton of a Saurolophus, a duckbilled, plant-eating dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period; and two Oviraptor skeletons, one found at Prokopi's home and the other at another residential dwelling in Florida. The Oviraptors have parrot-like skulls.
"It's among the larger dinosaur shopping lists you'll see today," Bell told the magistrate judge.
In a release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "Fossils and ancient skeletal remains are part of the fabric of a country's natural history and cultural heritage, and black marketers like Prokopi who illegally export and sell these wonders, steal a slice of that history. We are pleased that we can now begin the process of returning these prehistoric fossils to their countries of origin."
Original Print Headline: Fossil dealer pleads guilty to smuggling