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Fla. man charged in N.Y. dinosaur fossils case

MIAMI — A Florida man was charged Wednesday with smuggling dinosaur fossils, including a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia, into the United States.

Eric Prokopi, a self-described ‘‘commercial paleontologist’’ who buys and sells whole and partial dinosaur skeletons, was arrested at his home in Gainesville, according to a complaint unsealed by prosecutors. He was charged with smuggling and with interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods.

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He also faces one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property, and make false statements. If convicted on all charges, he could face up to 35 years in prison.

The arrest was handled by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement the investigation ‘‘uncovered a one-man black market in prehistoric fossils.’’ The US government seized the Tyrannosaurus skeleton earlier this year after it was sold by an auction house for $1.05 million.

Prokopi has been involved in a lawsuit in New York over the auction because the Mongolian government has said it may belong to them.

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