A dinosaur dispute has ended in a Florida fossils dealer pleading guilty to smuggling charges.
38-year-old Eric Prokopi (below) has offered to give up a dinosaur skeleton worth $1 million for its return to Mongolia. The skeleton was seized by US customs officials earlier this year.
Prokopi has said he will surrender the 70 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (above) and give up his claims to six other dinosaurs and various other bones as part of a deal with prosecutors. In return, the prosecution has said it will recommend leniency from charges that can result in a potential prison sentence of up to 17 years.
In Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday, prosecutors read out what they described as “[one of] the larger dinosaur shopping lists you’ll see today.”
Assistant US Attorney Martin S. Bell noted that a second near-complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton was discovered at Prokopi’s Gainesville, Florida home, and a third is suspected to be in Great Britain.
The dinosaur dispute began when the US government accused Prokopi of illegally smuggling bones into the country from Mongolia, before assembling them into a complete skeleton and selling them at auction for $1.05 million. The government said Prokopi attempted to fool customs officials by mislabeling the various shipments of dinosaur bones as reptile bones from Great Britain.
A release from US Attorney Preet Bharara read:
“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.”
Prokopi remains free on bail pending a sentencing scheduled for April 25.