US fossils dealer jailed for dinosaur smuggling

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The near-complete skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus Bataar which was dug up in 1995 but illegally exported to the US in 2010, according to a New York court.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Tyrannosaurus Bataar was erroneously valued at $15,000 when it was shipped to the US

A US fossils dealer has been jailed for three months for smuggling dinosaur bones including those of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar from Mongolia.

Eric Prokopi, 39, had admitted three charges when he appeared in court in December 2012.

Prosecutors in New York described him as "one-man black market in prehistoric fossils".

The Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was returned to Mongolia in May 2013.

Prokopi had sold it at auction in May 2012 for more than $1m ($600,000) but it was then seized by the US government.

Prosecutors said that from 2010 to 2012, Prokopi misrepresented the contents of dinosaur fossil shipments to the US from Mongolia.

He also admitted illegally importing a Chinese flying dinosaur, two oviraptors and a duckbilled creature known as a Saurolophus.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Eric Prokopi has since been helping authorities investigate the black market in fossils

One of the Saurolophus skeletons was sold at an auction in California for $75,000 but was later confiscated by authorities.

Prokopi - described as a commercial palaeontologist who sold coral, fossils and other items from his home - was arrested in October 2012.

"I sincerely love fossils," Prokopi told US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan on Tuesday.

"What I did was wrong, and I failed to appreciate the gravity of what I have done."

Prokopi's home address was given as Williamsburg, Virginia, although at the time of the offences he was living in Gainesville, Florida.

Judge Hellerstein said a prison term would send a message to others in the commercial palaeontology field.

"He is clearly not a bad person, but he has done a bad thing," Judge Hellerstein said.

Assistant US Attorney Martin Bell said Prokopi had helped investigations into possibly illegally imported fossils that were continuing in Wyoming, California and New York.

Mongolia said the near-complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was stolen from the Gobi desert.

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