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Colorado man pleads guilty in Chinese fossil case

1:06 PM, Jan 3, 2014   |    comments
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A Colorado man accused of smuggling dinosaur bones from Asia has pleaded guilty in federal court.

Rick Rolater of Eagle, entered the plea Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Kelly Rankin in Cheyenne. The 69-year-old operates a fossil and mineral shop called By Nature Gallery in Beaver Creek and Jackson Hole.

Rolater faces a $25,000 fine and two years' probation under a plea agreement when he is sentenced March 18 in Casper. He agreed to forfeit a saber-toothed cat skull and three dinosaur fossils imported from China.

Rolater also agreed not to contest forfeiture of two fossils from Mongolia, including the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar, a close relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex. He didn't admit the Mongolian fossils were imported illegally.

KUSA reached Rolater by phone Thursday night and he called what happened an "unfortunate misunderstanding."

"We did not know we were breaking the law," Rolater said.

Homeland Security says the case involved exploitation of international trade systems.

"From the stand point of Homeland Security, this is a border security issue in the sense that contraband is being illegally smuggled across our borders and we're concerned about any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by transnational criminal groups," special agent Kumar Kibble said.

Kibble said the fossil black market caters to wealthy private collectors seeking artifacts.

"China and Mongolia have very strong patrimony laws to protect their cultural heritage," he said. "To ensure their country's historical and cultural artifacts aren't looted."

It's excavation sites that are commonly looted, and even the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has been hit by thieves at a dig in Madagascar.

"We've had cases where people have come in the middle of the night and taken teeth out of jaws and essentially ruined specimens for a few extra dollars," dinosaur curator Joe Sertich said.

Sertich said the scientific and research value in dinosaur remains goes far beyond any dollar figure.

"When you hear about fossils that are disappearing out on the black market, as a scientist, it really breaks your heart," Sertich said.

During this investigation, HSI seized the following smuggled fossils, which will ultimately be repatriated back to their country of origin:

China Origin:
Item Estimated Value
Micro-Raptor (4) $173,000
Dinosaur Eggs (10) $5,075
Keichosaurus (15) $3,990
Sinovenator (2) $70,000
Anchiormis (1) $30,000

Mongolia Origin:
Item Estimated Value
Bataar Skull (3) $1,875,000
Bataar lower leg (1) $75,000
Gallimimus foot (1) $18,750
Protoceratops (1) $100,000
Gallimimus skeleton (1) $100,000


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