Black Market T-Rex: Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Dinosaur Bones
You may want to check the certificate of authenticity for your Stegosaurus skeleton. Yesterday, a Florida man pleaded guilty to illegally smuggling dinosaur skeletons.
Don't be alarmed if you were unaware that dinosaur bone-smuggling was an issue because we didn't know either. But yesterday's guilty plea from 38-year-old Eric Prokopi, who identifies himself as a commercial paleontologist, proves that it really is.
"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," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release. "We are pleased that we can now begin the process of returning these prehistoric fossils to their countries of origin."
Prokopi illegally purchased the fossils from black market sources overseas. He then slipped them into the country past U.S. Customs by falsely identifying the contents of the shipping containers used to transport the fossils, according to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.
An investigation led by the Department of Homeland Security found that most of the fossils in Prokopi's possession were stolen from Mongolia. In a statement released to the media in June, Prokopi wrote:
"I'm just a guy in Gainesville, Florida trying to support my family, not some international bone smuggler like I have been portrayed by some in the media," according to Live Science.
Yesterday, Prokopi changed his tune and admitted to illegally acquiring the fossils, which he understood were stolen from Mongolia. Prokopi misdeeds were red-flagged last May when one of the stolen fossils, a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton, was sold at a Manhattan auction for $1.1 million -- a matter being handled in a separate civil forfeiture case, according the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.
Authorities also seized an additional Tyrannosaurs skeleton, two Saurolophus skeletons and an Oviraptor skeleton. Prokopi faces up to 17 years in prison and is due for sentencing in federal court in April.