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Preet Bharara Deports Lenny The Tyrannosaurus To Mongolia
Written: December 29, 2012

A baby Tyrannosaurus Rex shows its teeth as it...

Purported Cretaceous period protester supporting civil rights of Lenny the Tyrannosaurus Bataar during federal court proceedings. 

This is an update of a “Street Sweeper” column that originally ran on June 20, 2012.

Lenny was a Tyrannosaurus dinosaur.  About 70 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, Lenny and a bunch of friends snuck out of the house to go tip over some Hadrosaurs that were grazing in a field in modern-day Mongolia.  The Hadrosaurs weren’t bothering nobody.  Lenny and his pals were out on a prank.

Fast forward about 70 million years to 1946.

No more Cretaceous period. Just the onset of the Cold War.  A Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert in the Mongolian Ömnögovi Province unearths Lenny’s fossil.  For whatever reason, turns out that Lenny wasn’t a popular Tyrannosaurus Rex. Nope, Lenny was the lesser Tyrannosaurus Bataar.  For Seinfeld fans, think about the great chocolate babka versus the lesser cinnamon babka.

On March 27, 2010, the skeletal remains of our lesser Tyrannosaurus was imported into the United States from Great Britain.

How the hell did Lenny get from Mongolia to Great Britain?  Fair question.

Godzilla In London

Customs documents (what – you thought you could export even a lesser Tyrannosaurus into the US without proper papers?) listed Lenny’s country of origin as Great Britain.  That set off a ton of alarms in paleontology departments all over the place because, after all, every paleontologist worth anything knows that Tyrannosaurus Bataars have only been found in Mongolia.  I think that in the 1950s, Godzilla made it to London but I could be wrong about that and, anyway, he and Lenny probably never knew each other to begin with.

Two Headed?

Also, instead of listing only Lenny’s skeletal remains, the customs documents stated that what had been imported into the US was two large rough fossil reptile heads, six boxes of broken fossil bones, three rough fossil reptiles, one fossil lizard, three rough fossil reptiles, and one fossil reptile skull. Say what you want about Lenny but he only had one head.

Sold!

Then there’s the money issue.  Even after tens of millions of years it still comes down to dollars. On the customs documents, Lenny was valued at only $15,000.  That was odd because Texas-based Heritage Auctions, Inc., was offering Lenny for sale at a New York City auction, and the 2012 catalog listed the skeleton at $950,000 to $1,500,000 – and the winning bid was $1,052,000.

Hold!

Prior to the auction sale, the Government of Mongolia sought, and was granted, by a Texas State Civil District Judge, a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the auctioning, sale, release or transfer of Lenny. Although the state order was in place, the auction proceeded contingent upon the outcome of court proceedings.

On June 5, 2012, at the request of the President of Mongolia, several paleontologists specializing in Tyrannosaurus Bataars examined Lenny and concluded that he was unearthed from the western Gobi Desert in Mongolia between 1995 and 2005. Geez, any idiot could have told you that. I wonder what it cost to get all those fossil guys to come and examine Lenny? If they had just asked me, I would have pointed out that Lenny was found wearing a Rolling Stones’ “Bridges to Babylon” t-shirt and the tour began in 1997, so that sort of narrowed it down, right?

Bharara Not Bataar

On June 18, 2012, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, hot off his victory against Wall Street insider traders, filed a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of Lenny. READ United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, a/k/a Lot 49315 Listed on Page 92 of the Heritage Auctions May 20, 2012 Natural History Auction Catalog, Defendant-In-Rem (SDNY 12-CIV-4760 June 18, 2012). Bharara stated:

The skeletal remains of this dinosaur are of tremendous cultural and historic significance to the people of Mongolia, and provide a connection to the country’s prehistoric past.  When the skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country’s natural history was stolen with it, and we look forward to returning it to its rightful place.

Mongolia’s President, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, stated:

I thank and applaud the United States Attorney’s Office in this action to recover the Tyrannosaurus bataar, an important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people.  Cultural looting and profiteering cannot be tolerated anywhere and this cooperation between our governments is a large step forward to stopping it.

I will be closely following this case.  I am particularly interested to see if any potential jurors are prejudiced against Tyrannosauruses.  I understand that among the defenses is a claim of mistaken identity and that Lenny is actually Bernie, another Tyrannosaurus Bataar who was involved in a Ponzi scheme several million years ago.  Folks say that the two look alike but if you really knew them, you’d see the obvious difference.  For a recent photo of Lenny, see the first page of Exhibit A attached to the Complaint

Bone To Pick: I would like to lodge a complaint about the photograph of Lenny that is attached as Exhibit A to the Complaint.  It is a terrible example of paparazzi ambush photojournalism that depicts this innocent Tyrannosuaurs Bataar in a very compromising pose during the totally unfair and prejudicial perp walk – bare-bone nude and apparently under the influence of some form of controlled substance.  Lenny denies being under the influence of anything and says it was exhaustion from his recent travels.

T. Rex: Bang A Gong. Get It On

According to the Complaint, Lenny was imported from Great Britain toFlorida Fossils of Gainesville, FL, on March 27, 2010. From the Sunshine State, Lenny was purportedly transported to Texas and, thereafter, to New York City for auction. I cannot confirm rumors that Lenny was performing in T. Rex tribute band at Austin, TX’s SXSW but some have suggested that possibility. Sadly, we learn that Lenny is presently being held against his will at Cadogan Tate Fine Arts in Sunnyside, NY.

According to the federal Complaint, the auction catalog described Lenny as follows:

SUPERB TYRANNOSAURUS SKELETON
T. bataar . . . ruled the food chain of the ancient floodplains that are today’s Gobi Desert . . . This is an incredible, complete skeleton, painstakingly excavated and prepared . . . The body is 75% complete and the skull 80% . . .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.

READ Prokopi’s Full-Text Motion To Dismiss (August 17, 2012) in the still pending civil forfeiture. In the “Conclusion” to that Motion, Prokopi states that:

It may or may not be time to regulate fossil collecting like antiquities collecting, but surely any such regulatory effort should only be accomplished prospectively through the legislative or administrative process rather than retroactively through a forfeiture action prompted by a media frenzy and foreign politics. The Government should not 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 Display Piece was “stolen.” For all these reasons, the Complaint should be dismissed.

October 17, 2012 Criminal Complaint

Although the civil forfeiture proceeding designed to return Lenny to Mongolia is still pending, on October 17, 2012, a criminal Complaint was unsealed in the Southern District of New York charging Eric Prokopi with multiple crimes relating to a scheme to illegally import dinosaur fossils into the United States, including a:

  • nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia (which we all have come to know and love as our Lenny),
  • Saurolophus angustirostris skeleton, also from Mongolia, and
  • Microraptor skeleton from China.

Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, FL, who was arrested on October 17th is charged with:

  • one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property, and make false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison;
  • smuggling goods into the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and
  • interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

READ the full-text criminal Complaint.

NOTE: The Complaint merely contains allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

According to federal prosecutors, Prokopi, a self-described “commercial paleontologist,” is the owner and operator of “Everything Earth,” which he runs out of his Florida home.  Purportedly, Prokopi buys and sells whole and partial fossilized dinosaur skeletons. See the Everything Earth Website

Allegedly, between 2010 and 2012, Prokopi acquired dinosaur fossils from foreign countries and unlawfully transported them to the United States, misrepresenting the contents of the shipments on customs forms.  Many of Prokopi’s fossils were only sourced from Mongolia, and that nation has allegedly disclosed a a witness who accompanied Prokopi to an excavation site in 2009 and observed him physically excavating fossils. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Government of Mongolia and criminalizing their export from the country.

The Feds charge that Prokopi also illegally imported from Mongolia the skeleton of a Saurolophus (from the late Cretaceous period) that he ultimately sold to the I.M. Chait gallery in California. In addition, Prokopi is charged with the unlawful sale of two other Mongolian dinosaurs: the Gallimimus and the Oviraptor mongoliensis. Apparently, not wanting to be known as just theMongolia Dinosaur Guy, Prokopi imported a Microraptor from China.

Dino Biz Opportunities

Please stay tuned for updates about planned “Free Lenny” protests. We are hoping to soon launchFree Lenny LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages. We are also hoping to fully merchandise this story via EBay and possibly sell international rights for an exclusive interview.  We’re in discussions about an iPad app.  I can’t go into it here, but we have a fun angle for Monster Worldwide where Lenny would be their on-air spokesperson … oops, that’s spokesdinosaur.  And, no, I absolutely can’t and won’t comment on those rumors involving Monster Beverage.

Also, our people are hoping to meet with Diane Sawyer’s or Barbara Walter’s people soon — and, if not, we’re open for something with Geraldo Rivera.  Lenny is also a fan of the Simpsons and is willing to make a guest appearance provided there’s monetary compensation involved.  We are absolutely closed to any cross-promotion with Barney as a result of ongoing litigation between the two dinosaur enterprises.  For the record, Barney is just some putz in a shabby costume; whereas, Lenny, well, Lenny is the real thing, the bona fide goods!

Tix Please

By the way, Lenny is looking for tickets to the Rolling Stones just announced concerts in London or Newark.  Given his current legal difficulties, Lenny may not be able to go overseas and is hoping that his pal Preet Bharara will convince the judge to permit him a trip to Newark, NJ for the Prudential Center concerts.  Lenny says that he and Keith Richards go way, way, waaaay back — and lookin’ at Keith, hey, who’s gonna argue that point?  Rumor has it that the Stones may invite Lenny onstage during “Beast of Burden.” On the other hand, bummer, the new Stones’ release:Grrr! apparently went with some dumb gorilla on the cover when the boys had promised that Lenny would get the spot. Then again, it was Keith who made the promise and Mick didn’t really seem onboard with the idea.

UPDATE

On December 27, 2012, Prokopi pled guilty to an Information charging him with the following criminal counts (In addition to a per count maximum $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain/loss from the offense, Prokopi faces maximum federal prison sentences noted in parentheses):

  • one count of conspiracy with respect to the Chinese flying dinosaur (5 years),
  • one count of entry of goods by means of false statements with respect to the Mongolian dinosaurs (2 years), and
  • one count of interstate and foreign transportation of goods converted and taken by fraud (10 years).
  • For each of the three counts Prokopi faces a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

In entering his guilty plea, Prokopi admitted to having engaged in a scheme to illegally import the fossilized remains of numerous dinosaurs that had been taken out of their native countries illegally and smuggled into the United States. As part of his plea agreement, he consented to the forfeiture of:

  • agreed to consent to the forfeiture of a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (the “First Bataar”), which was looted from Mongolia and sold at auction in Manhattan for over $1 million;
  • a second nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton,
  • a Saurolophus skeleton,
  • an Oviraptor skeleton.
  • a third Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton believed to be located in Great Britain.

In gloating over his victory, in what essentially amounts to the deportation of Lenny to Mongolia, United States Attorney Preet Bharara said:

Fossils and ancient skeletal remains are part of the fabric of a country’s natural history and cultural heritage, and black marketeers like Prokopi who illegally export and sell these wonders, steal a slice of that history. We are pleased that we can now begin the process of returning these prehistoric fossils to their countries of origin.


 
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