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Dinosaur fossil smuggler pleads guilty

Dec. 28, 2012 at 1:36 AM

NEW YORK, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A Florida man admitted Thursday he illegally smuggled dinosaur fossils into the United States, pleading guilty in federal court in New York.

Eric Prokopi of Gainesville, who called himself a "commercial paleontologist," agreed to the forfeiture of an almost complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton that sold for about $1 million at an auction house in Manhattan, federal prosecutors said. The skeleton was illegally removed from Mongolia.

Prokopi also agreed to forfeit other dinosaur fossils, including two more Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons.

"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," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "We are pleased that we can now begin the process of returning these prehistoric fossils to their countries of origin."

Under Mongolian law, dinosaur fossils are the property of the government and cannot be removed from the country.

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