There are rules about what you can bring into the United States. Certain types of pets, seeds, soil, food and booze are tightly regulated.
And it turns out so are dinosaurs. A Florida man got busted Wednesday, charged with smuggling fossils from Mongolia into the United States, including a nearly complete tyrannosaurus, which was later auctioned off in New York for seven figures.
The alleged perp: Eric Prokopi, a self-described “commercial paleontologist,” who owns and operates a business called Everything Earth out of his home in Gainesville. He was running a one-man black-market in prehistoric fossils, said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The tyrannosaurus, large though it may be, was the “tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The government seized the skeleton earlier this year after it was sold by an auction house for $1.05 million, but did not arrest Prokopi until Wednesday, when they grabbed him at his home.
Prokopi did not immediately respond to a phone call, but his attorney has said he did nothing wrong.
Prokopi has been involved in a lawsuit in New York over the auction. Mongolia has laws on the books saying all fossils interred in Mongolia belong to the government and are not to be plundered.
Michael McCullough, representing Prokopi in the lawsuit, has said his client is entitled to keep the creature he spent a year assembling at great expense.
For the record, McCullough has said feds are wrong in alleging that the skeleton pieces were brought into the country in one $15,000 shipment. In fact, he said, there were three other shipments and only 37 percent of the completed skeleton came from one specimen.
Federal prosecutors said Prokopi misrepresented the identity, origin and value of the skeleton of the tyrannosaurus bataar, a dinosaur that lived approximately 70 million years ago.
Speaking of Mongolia, Prokopi also is accused of plucking from that country the bones of a saurolophus, another dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period that he sold to a gallery in California; along with fossils of two other Mongolian natives: a gallimimus and an oviraptor mongoliensis.
He also imported the fossilized remains of a microraptor, a small, flying dinosaur from China, the complaint said.
If convicted on all charges — which range from conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods to possessing stolen property to interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods — Prokopi could face up to 35 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.