The skeleton of a 70 million-year-old dinosaur was seized by U.S. authorities from a Queens art warehouse Friday afternoon.
The 8-foot-tall, 24-foot-long Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton sold at auction last month for more than $1 million, though the sale is contingent upon the outcome of litigation over where the fossil originated.
It was being stored at the Cadogan Tate Fine Art warehouse in Sunnyside until Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized it Friday.
The government said in court papers that the skeleton was moved in March 2010 from Great Britain to Gainesville, Fla., with erroneous papers that claimed it had originated in Great Britain and was worth only $15,000.
Federal authorities say five experts viewed the remains on June 5, agreeing unanimously that the skeleton was a Tyrannosaurus bataar and almost certainly originated in the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia, not Great Britain as the import papers claimed. It was believed to have been unearthed in the last 17 years.
A Manhattan federal judge on Tuesday ordered the transfer of the bones to U.S. custody to likely be returned to Mongolia due to the looting allegations.
Eric Prokopi, a Florida dealer of fossils who acquired the remains and constructed the skeleton, disputes the government's claims.
"I can wholeheartedly say the import documents are not fraudulent, a truth I am confident will be brought to light in the coming weeks," said Prokopi, 37. "The value was declared much lower than the auction value because, quite simply, it was loose, mostly broken bones and rocks with embedded bones. It was not what you see today, a virtually complete, mounted skeleton."
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