NEW YORK (AP) — A Virginia fossils dealer was sentenced Tuesday to three months in prison even after a prosecutor described his cooperation with law enforcement in heroic terms, saying he enabled more than 18 largely complete dinosaur fossils to be located, enough for Mongolia to open its first dinosaur museum.
Eric Prokopi, 39, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein for smuggling a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton from Mongolia into the United States by making false statements to U.S. officials, including that the then-unassembled bones were merely reptile fossils from Great Britain.
Once assembled, the skeleton was sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions for more than $1 million before it was seized by the U.S. government and returned to Mongolia.
Hellerstein also ordered Prokopi to serve three months community confinement and 100 hours of community service.
Hellerstein said Prokopi was to be commended for his cooperation and for working as a commercial paleontologist to enhance the world's knowledge of the origins of man.
But the judge said Prokopi had "done a bad thing" and needed punishment.
Prokopi apologized and said he hoped to rebuild his business with an emphasis on getting proper documentation for bones he purchases.
"I sincerely love fossils," said Prokopi, of Williamsburg, Virginia. He was living in Gainesville, Florida, when he was charged with importing multiple shipments of dinosaur bones between 2010 and 2012 that had been stolen from the Gobi Desert region of Mongolia.
Prokopi also said he hoped to repair any damage to the field of paleontology caused by his case.
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