CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Wyoming fossil retailer pleaded guilty Thursday to an Information charging conspiracy to smuggle dinosaur and other fossilized bones into the United States from China and Mongolia.
This guilty plea was announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Wyoming. This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
John Richard Rolater, 69, pleaded guilty to the charge and also agreed to surrender any and all contraband vertebrate fossils he has, which include the following fossils from China: a saber-toothed cat skull, a Feilongus fossil, an Anchiornis Huxleyi fossil and a Darwinopterus fossil.
As part of the plea agreement, Rolater also agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, and to two years of supervised probation. A formal sentencing date has not yet been set.
Rolater owns and operates two "By Nature Gallery" retail stores in Jackson, Wyo., and Beaver Creek, Colo.
"These fossils had been illegally exported from China and Mongolia, and then illegally imported into the United States," said Kumar C. Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver, which includes Wyoming. "Without the vigilance of Homeland Security Investigations, and our law enforcement partners, wholesale looting of a country's historical and cultural artifacts would be a free-for-all for any profiteer."
This investigation began in June 2012 following a hot-line tip which was forwarded to HSI special agents in Casper, Wyo. The tipster reported that a Tyrannosaurus Bataar fossilized skull being sold by Rolater in his Jackson, Wyo., store was originally from Mongolia. However, immediately after the HSI seizure of a separate Bataar skull was publicized in New York, the Bataar skull displayed in Rolater's Jackson, Wyo., store was removed. HSI special agents obtained a search warrant and discovered the skull June 22, 2012 hidden in a closet of the rented residence of the store's director, which was owned by Rolater.
HSI special agents executed another search warrant at Rolater's Eagle, Colo., residence Aug. 1, 2012. They discovered and seized the following items: a fossilized Gallimimus foot, six computers, two electronic storage devices, a box of business documents from Rolater, and a fossilized juvenile Bataar skull, which was hidden in the crawl space of Rolater's house.
Both China and Mongolia have extensive cultural patrimony laws that specifically protect prehistoric fossils.
During this investigation, HSI seized the following smuggled fossils, which will ultimately be repatriated back to their country of origin:
|China Origin:||Mongolia Origin:|
|Item||Estimated Value||Item||Estimated Value|
|Micro-Raptor (4)||$173,000||Bataar Skull (3)||$1,875,000|
|Dinosaur Eggs (10)||$5,075||Bataar lower leg (1)||$75,000|
|Keichosaurus (15)||$3,990||Gallimimus foot (1)||$18,750|
|Sinovenator (2)||$70,000||Protoceratops (1)||$100,000|
|Anchiormis (1)||$30,000||Gallimimus skeleton (1)||$100,000|
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. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 75 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.
HSI's specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.
Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.