Eric Prokopi. Photo by Reuters
A Florida man described by federal prosecutors as a
"one-man black market in prehistoric fossils" has pleaded
guilty 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
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 $US1.05 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
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 origin."
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.