Wednesday, 17 October 2012

'Tarby' Dealer Eric Procopi Arrested

I felt this was coming. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) press release (HSI arrests Florida man for illegally importing dinosaur fossils) breaks the news that Eric Prokopi, 38, of Gainesville, Florida was arrested earlier today:
pursuant to a federal criminal complaint charging him 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, a Saurolophus angustirostris skeleton, also from Mongolia, and a Microraptor skeleton from China [...] charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property and make false statements   [...], smuggling goods into the United States [...] and interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods [...] The charges against Prokopi are merely allegations. He is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. 
The whole action here was done backwards, first the US authorities tried to seize Tarby, illogically ignoring the other Mongolian fossils, and only later seem to have realised that they were crucial to that case.

More here...

The press release is full of the usual rhetoric about the importance the US attaches to stopping certain "business practices". You have to laugh, the trade in obviously and potentially dodgy geological collectables has been and is going on perfectly openly on the US (and other) markets for decades, and how "important" was it to look into it in all that time? Obviously it takes a personal request from the President of a Very Big Country to kickstart US authorities into taking any interest at all in this sort of thing going on right under their noses. One cannot but wonder whether the US authorities are all that concerned about the trade in collectables here, but using the threat of charges as a big stick to get Procopi to surrender Tarby.
The criminal case is being prosecuted by the USAO SDNY's Complex Frauds Unit. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin S. Bell. The ongoing civil forfeiture case is being handled by the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharon Cohen Levin and Martin S. Bell are in charge of the forfeiture case.

So far there has been no comment on Peter Tompa's blog (Mr Tompa is one of Procopi's lawyers trying to keep Tarby in the US - it seems that this new development is going to make that even more of an uuphill battle).

UPDATE 17.10.2012:
Still no comment from "Cultural Property Observer". In contrast there is the usual thoroughly-researched detailed breakdown of the salient features of the case by Rick St Hilaire, well worth a read: ('Prokopi Arrested after Claim to Dinosaur Bones Prompts Criminal Investigation', 17 Oct 2012). He gives considerable detail suggesting the nature of some of those "business practices" of US "small businesses" importing to that country collectables from foreign countries with restrictive patrimony laws.

UPDATE 17.10.2012:
Now there is a comment from Tompa, attached to an earlier post ('Renewed Motion to Dismiss in Dinosaur Forfeiture Case'):
Update (10/17/12):  Here is a balanced article on the Government's unfortunate effort to convert this civil action into a criminal one.
[but for some real entertainment follow through the link he gives to the 'balanced' (i.e., mentions Tompa a lot) article and then look at those comments. Some of them need to be seen to be believed].

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