There are crimes -- the sort we normally write about; stealing, killing, abusing, drug dealing, and drug abusing.
And then there are crimes. That's what Florida man Eric Prokopi was into. His misdeed involved stealing dinosaur fossils, smuggling them into the United States, and then selling them while managing his business everything-earth.com.
Late last year, he pleaded guilty to the federal charges. And now, his biggest score -- a $1 million skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar -- is heading back whence it came: Mongolia.
This odd tale begins in Gainesville and traces to the inner depths of the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.
According to everything-earth.com, Prokopi grew up shy and scuba-diving the nearby coastlines and finding fossils all over Florida. It was all the Gainesville man wanted to do. Then, after he found his wife, Amanda, and the two married, the plot line thickened.
"The little boy, now a man, continued to travel the world digging up fossils and diving for them but the little girl, now a woman, was not doing anything," their website tale reads. "She began to travel the world along with him and collect unique beads and artifacts from all over the globe."
What was left out of the sanguine narrative?
Prokopi's activities besides that. Under Mongolian law, foreign excavation of their fossils is illegal and constitutes a violation of international trade. But according to Prokopi's federal indictment, Pokopi was seen in the Gobi Desert with clipboard, scrutinizing an excavation. Then, afterward, those same bones were sold to a New York auction for more than $1 million.
Months later, everything began to unravel for Prokopi. Federal investigators alleged that he'd forged documentation when importing the fossils and that they had proof of the subterfuge. They said he'd also smuggled a microraptor fossil as well oviraptor bones.
Last December, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, the fraudulent transfer of the bones, and making false statements to customs authorities. He gave back the $1 million and faces up to 17 years in prison.
The U.S. government earlier this week shipped back the T-Rex bones -- free of charge -- to Mongolia.
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