Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dinosaur Forfeiture Complaint Now Published in New York Court as Coin Dealer Lawyers File Appearance to Free Arrested Mongolian Tyrannosaurus

Source: ICE
Today the federal district court in the southern district of New York electronically published the federal government's forfeiture complaint against a dinosaur skeleton.  And an ancient coin dealers' attorney and lobbyist has filed an appearance as co-counsel on behalf of a claimant who wants the bones back.

Cultural property watchers are aware of the dinosaur's seizure last week when the federal government took legal action against a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton offered for sale at auction. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a forfeiture complaint explaining that the dinosaur bones were illegally imported into this country on March 27, 2012 from Great Britain.  Federal prosecutors allege criminal wrongdoing in their complaint, writing in part:
The Customs Importation documents for the Defendant Property [Tyrannosaurus bataar] contain several misstatements. First, the country of origin for the Defendant Property was erroneously listed on the Customs Entry Form as Great Britain rather than Mongolia. Second, the Defendant Property was substantially undervalued in the Customs Importation documents. The importation documents list the value of the Defendant Property as $15,000 contrary to the $950,000 - $1,500,00 value listed in the Heritage Auctions May 20, 2012 Natural History Auction catalog and the actual auction sale price of $1,052,500. Third, the Defendant Property was incorrectly described in the Customs Importation documents as "2 large rough (unprepared) fossil reptile heads;" "6 boxes of broken fossil bones;" "3 rough (unprepared) fossil reptiles;" "1 fossil lizard;" "3 rough (unprepared) fossil reptiles;" and "1 fossil reptile skull."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) assisted with the case. "As alleged, criminal smugglers misrepresented this fossil to customs officials when they illegally imported it into the United States," commented ICE Director John Morton in a press statement.  While authorities allege specific unlawful acts surrounding the Tyrannosaurus bataar's import, federal officials have thus far only arrested the dinosaur bones.

The U.S. Attorney's stated goal is to seize and forfeit the Tyrannosaurus bataar for repatriation to Mongolia.  Court records do not indicate that law enforcement sought a search warrant to seize the dinosaur for potential evidence as part of a criminal investigation.

The government's complaint lists "commercial paleontologist" Eric Prokopi as the consignor of the dinosaur bones.  Washington, DC based attorney Peter Tompa, who litigates and lobbies on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), filed a court appearance today announcing his representation of Prokopi.  Tompa is co-counsel along with Brooklyn cultural property lawyer and ancient coin dealer advocate, Michael McCullough.  McCullough's LinkedIn profile lists him as past associate counsel at Sotheby's.  Experienced cultural property forfeiture prosecutor Sharon Cohen Levin is lead attorney for the government.