David Nehls, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant special agent, diplayed a group of recovered fossilized dinosaur eggs during a new conference Wednesday, March 15, 2006, in Los Angeles. Australian mineral dealer Tamas 'Thomas' Kapitany pleaded guilty Wednesday, to charges stemming from an ICE investigation that he illegally imported hundreds of fossilized dinosaur eggs from China to sell at gem and mineral shows throughout the southwest U.S. A clutch of recovered fossilized dinosaur eggs were displayed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the news conference.
Federal investigators are continuing their efforts today to trace the origins of a nearly perfectly preserved nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs that were apparently smuggled out of China before being seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from a Los Angeles-area auction house late last week.
According to the search warrant affidavit filed in the case, ICE agents were tipped off about the existence of the fossils by a December USA Today article touting their upcoming sale by Bohnams and Butterfields Auction House. ICE investigators say Bohnams and Butterfields is cooperating fully with the investigation, which is ongoing.
The USA Today story, which estimated the fossils' value at more than $200,000, stated that the nest was unearthed in China's Guangdon Province during the early 1980s. The story went on to say that the nest was ultimately purchased by an American collector in 2003.
The dinosaur nest is so well preserved that the fossilized remains of the dinosaur embryos are still visible inside the eggs. The eggs are believed to be those of a predatory raptor that roamed the earth during the Cretaceous Period more than 65 million years ago.
According to the case affidavit, evidence gathered by ICE so far suggests the nest was brought into the United States illegally. Fossils and cultural relics are protected by the Chinese government and removing them from that country without government permission is against the law. In response to a Customs summons served on them in December, Bonhams and Butterfields contacted the original shipper in Taiwan who subsequently acknowledged in an email that he had no paperwork to establish the eggs' origins or to substantiate their legal transfer from Hong Kong to Taiwan.
In addition, the original shipping label on the nest declared its value to be $500. Experts now estimate the nest is worth as much as $350,000. ICE agents say undervaluing imported goods is a common ploy used by smugglers attempting to avoid detection, since merchandise worth more than $2,500 is subject to formal importation procedures.
“Fossil smuggling may seem like a plot twist in an Indiana Jones movie, but it is a serious crime,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. “These acts not only rob countries like China of precious artifacts, but the subterfuge used to bring these specimens into the country poses a genuine threat to our nation's security.”
Last year, an Australian mineral dealer pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to illegally importing hundreds of fossilized dinosaur eggs from China to sell at gem and mineral shows throughout the Southwest. Tamas “Thomas” Kapitany was sentenced to one-year probation and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. The eggs seized by ICE in that investigation have since been returned to the Chinese government.
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