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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
10/14/2015

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Colorado dinosaur fossil smuggler sentenced in Wyoming

151 million-year-old dinosaur fossils smuggled from China are valued up to $250,000
Micro Raptor Fossil
Micro Raptor Fossil Skeleton
Anchiornis Fossil

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Colorado man was sentenced in Wyoming last week for his role in a multi-person conspiracy to smuggle dinosaur fossils from China to the United States after hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossils were imported by mislabeling and concealing them within legitimate cargo.

Special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case.  It was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Wyoming.

Charles Magovern, 67, of Boulder, Colorado, was sentenced in Wyoming federal court to one year supervised probation for smuggling paleontological specimens and aiding abetting.  As part of an agreement made with the government, Magovern also returned all fossils under his control.

“Homeland Security Investigations works with our partners around the world to investigate and repatriate cultural artifacts that were stolen from their rightful owners,” said David A. Thompson, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. “HSI special agents receive specialized training from prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian to make them even more effective in investigating these crimes.”

Magovern possessed the following fossils:

  • A Chinese Sinovenator, which is about 120 to 130 million years old and valued at about $70,000;
  • An Anchiornis Huxley, which is about 151 to 161 million years old and valued at about $100,000;
  • A Protoceratops, which is about 71 to 86 million years old and valued at about $250,000; and
  • Four Micro-Raptors, which are about 124 to 128 million years old and valued at about $38,000 to $45,000 each.

Importing Chinese and Mongolian fossils into the U.S. is a violation of federal law and both countries have extensive laws that specifically protect prehistoric fossils, and prevent their export.

A tip from the public received in 2012 alerted HSI special agents to the information that eventually led to Magovern’s conviction. 

“Many of these investigations are largely dependent on the willingness of the general public to report these crimes to HSI, so we encourage them to do so by calling the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing our online tip form,” Thompson said.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts, to protect cultural antiquities. In this case, ICE provided evidence and other data to Hong Kong Customs officials to further their investigation.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to more than 27 countries including paintings from France, Germany and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscript from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 10/14/2015