Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dinosaur Claimant's Attorneys File Sharply Worded Reply Memorandum and Ask Court for Expedited Hearing

In a sharply worded reply memorandum filed Tuesday in the forfeiture case of United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, lawyers for dinosaur claimant Eric Prokopi ask the Manhattan federal district court to rule on its motion to dismiss "now."  The claimant's attorneys write (with citations omitted):

"Some three months after filing this civil forfeiture action, the Government has arrested Claimant Eric Prokopi ('Prokopi' or 'Claimant') on criminal charges that largely track the allegations in its 'First Amended Verified Complaint' for civil forfeiture ('Amended Complaint'). This sequence of events raises serious questions. If Government investigators honestly believe that Prokopi engaged in criminal conduct cumulating in consigning the Tyrannosaurs Bataar Display Piece ('the Display Piece') for sale in a public auction, why not treat the matter as a criminal one from the start? One might wonder whether the Government is now merely punishing Prokopi for daring to file a claim to property coveted by the President of Mongolia, and is using the criminal complaint to hamstring Prokopi’s ability to reclaim the Display Piece, the fruit of a year of Prokopi’s own work, Prokopi’s own financial investment and Prokopi’s own expertise."

Prokopi assembled the dinosaur bones to sell at an auction this past spring. At the request of the Mongolian government, American officials seized the Tyrannosaurus Bataar and filed a claim for forfeiture in federal court. A judge recently expressed concern about awarding forfeiture, but allowed the U.S. government to resubmit its case. Federal attorneys not only filed a new forfeiture complaint, they arrested Prokopi on charges of conspiracy, false classification of goods, and receipt and transportation of stolen property.

Prokopi's reply memorandum comes on the heels of the government's own court pleading filed soon after Prokopi's arrest. Read the October 20, 2012 update at the bottom of the post for a description of the federal government's memorandum.

The claimant's attorneys conclude their reply memorandum by saying, "The Government should not be allowed to profit from its hardball tactics, nor should it be allowed to seize property based upon obscure foreign laws or unwritten interpretations of 'country of origin' or valuation rules for fossils. Moreover, the Government has not alleged sufficient facts to establish a reasonable basis to believe that it could meet its burden to prove that the component parts of the Display Piece were 'stolen' under U.S. law. For all these reasons, the Complaint should promptly be dismissed and Prokopi should be awarded attorney’s fees and costs."  They attorneys have asked the court for an expedited hearing.

Meanwhile, the federal district court in Manhattan on Monday set the appearance bond in the criminal case of U.S. v. Eric Prokopi (1:12-mj-02634-UA) at $250,000: "Bail terms set in Florida to continue with following amendments: Bond raised to $250,000 to be co-signed ...." Home detention vacated. Wife's passport to be surrendered. Travel SDNY/EDNY and Northern District of Florida and intervening Districts."

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: