Dinosaur dispute: Fla. man pleads guilty smuggling dinosaur skeleton

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Dinosaur skeleton stock photo (Credit: Thinkstock)

NEW YORK — A fossils dealer from Florida pleaded guilty last week to smuggling charges and agreed to give up a celebrated $1 million dinosaur skeleton seized by the government earlier this year for its eventual return to Mongolia, the Associated Press is reporting.

Eric Prokopi, 38, said he would surrender the 70 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton known as ‘‘Ty,” according to the report. He will also give up claims to six other dinosaurs and various bones that in a deal that could help him win leniency from charges that could put him in jail for up to 17 years.

The government says Prokopi smuggled the bones into the U.S. illegally from Mongolia before assembling them into a skeleton that sold at auction for $1.05 million. The government said the smuggled bones were mislabeled as “reptile bones” from Great Britain.

Some of the dinosaurs seized include a substantially complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton, a Chinese flying dinosaur skeleton, a skeleton of a Saurolophus, a duckbilled, plant eating dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period and two Oviraptor skeletons.

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.’’


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