U.S. Judge: More Must Be Learned Before Sending Skeleton to Mongolia

, The Associated Press

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A federal judge expressed surprise on Sept. 5 that a dinosaur skeleton seized by the U.S. government is a composite of several ancient creatures, calling it a "kind of Frankenstein model of a dinosaur."

Southern District Judge P. Kevin Castel (See Profile) said it seemed much more needs to be learned about the 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, known as Ty, before it can be carted off to Mongolia, where the U.S. government says it originated and belongs.

With the judge's approval, U.S. agents swooped into a storage facility in June and snatched the fossil after the government insisted it was a rare specimen that could only have originated in Mongolia. The fossil's seizure seemed urgent after the 8-foot-tall, 24-foot-long skeleton was sold by Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions for $1.05 million.

Attorney Michael McCullough argued the skeleton should be returned to Gainesville, Fla., fossils dealer Eric Prokopi, who says he assembled dinosaur pieces that were worth only tens of thousands of dollars into a nearly intact skeleton worth much more.

The judge said he thought the skeleton represented one dinosaur. McCullough told him only 37 percent of the skeleton came from one specimen, with an equal amount of the finished product coming from at least one other dinosaur and possibly many.

"Now I'm finding out it's kind of a Frankenstein model of a dinosaur, based on several creatures," the judge said.

It also was revealed that dinosaur pieces were brought into the United States in four shipments, not one, as had been described in papers filed by the government.

The U.S. government has said the dinosaur had to have been taken from Mongolia and must be returned. McCullough argued that much of the skeleton might have originated in other countries and that the government had not sufficiently shown why it must be sent to Mongolia.

Assistant Southern District U.S. Attorney Sharon Cohen Levine said it was highly unlikely that the bones originated outside Mongolia and that they are subject to forfeiture whether they originated with one dinosaur or many.

The case is United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, 12-civ-4760. Through a quirk of law, the government was forced to sue the dinosaur itself so that it could seize it, a fact that did not get past the judge.

"I'm not going to claim I have dinosaur arrests presented to me with any frequency," he said.

Although the dinosaur was not in court, the judge left open the possibility that it would be brought in if the case goes to trial.

In describing its size, a prosecutor said it would be possible to fit two similar size dinosaurs in the jury box.

The judge replied: "I don't think we'll have a skeleton in the jury box, but we might have it in the courtroom."

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