January 14, 2013

Florida Man Steals T-Rex

Well actually, it was a Tyrannosaurus bataar, also known as the Tarbosaurus, but that doesn’t change the fact that this man was dealing in stolen fossils and questionable customs practices.

Some people smuggle drugs, others smuggle people, but as redOrbit reported, Eric Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, Florida, smuggles fossils.

The self proclaimed, “commercial paleontologist” falsely filled out customs paperwork detailing the contents as miscellaneous broken lizard bones from the U.K. when in all actuality, he was smuggling a million bucks worth of T-Rex.

According to him, though, it’s all a big misunderstanding.

Prokopi, allegedly put the skeleton up for sale in the U.S. with a Texas-based auction house. In the description he provided of the skeleton, he said that the dinosaur ‘ruled the food chain of the ancient floodplains that are today’s Gobi Desert. The body is 75 percent complete and the skull 80 percent… Measuring 24 feet in length and standing 8 feet high, it is a stupendous, museum-quality specimen of one of the most emblematic dinosaurs ever to have stalked this Earth.’

He claims that all the information on his U.S. customs documents was absolutely truthful. He said the fossils were nothing more than chunks of rocks and broken bones when he received them.

There are always three sides to a story, the side of the person in question, the side of the prosecution, and the truth.

“Transforming the specimens ‘into an impressive skeleton took thousands of hours and every penny my wife and I had, but it was fascinating,’ Prokopi told the Associated Press earlier this year.

‘We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to share him with the world, and hoped it would inspire others to see the magic of paleontology and develop a love of science and appreciation of nature,’ Prokopi said.

Hayley Peterson of Daily Mail said, “The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office seized the skeleton from Prokopi’s transaction and determined, through examinations by several paleontologists, that the bones were dug up in Mongolia.”

Maybe I’m just being naïve, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that an educated family man, a husband and father of two, would do something so shady (under the watchful eye of the federal government, with a hell of a paper trail leading to his doorstep) that would jeopardize his livelihood. I’m no federal agent, and I’m surely not a paleontologist, so I don’t have an intimate understanding of all the details that go along with transport and sale of fossils, but I just don’t see what the guy did wrong. (If everything he says is true)

I’m sure more information will surface with the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Prokopi, and hopefully I’m right.

If I’m wrong though, and he was knowingly committing fraud against the federal trade laws, he could face up to 35 years in prison.

He caught the attention of federal officials when he sold the Tyrannosaurus fossils to a Manhattan buyer for $1.1 million. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began an investigation into his fossil dealings and uncovered a list of questionable exchanges, which culminated in his arrest on Wednesday.

“Other dinosaur skeletons that Prokopi is charged with illegally procuring or selling include a Saurolophus from Mongolia, which he sold to a gallery in California for $75,000, a Microraptor — which is a small flying dinosaur — from China, and a Gallimimus and an Oviraptor from Mongolia.”

Image Credit: fusebulb / Shutterstock

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