Last week, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, filed a civil forfeiture complaint to take possession of a stolen dinosaur skull that a rogue paleontologist had smuggled into the United States from Mongolia and sold to a gallery where it was apparently won at auction by Nicolas Cage.
Mongolia outlawed the export of dinosaur bones unearthed within its borders in 1924. In December 2012, paleontologist Eric Prokopi plead guilty to smuggling most of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton out of the Gobi desert. He served three months in prison. As part of his plea, Reuters reports, he helped authorities recover at least 17 other stolen fossils.
Cage himself was not officially identified, although authorities said that the skull’s owner is not accused of any wrongdoing and voluntarily agreed to turn the it over. From the complaint:
The lawsuit described the skull as having been bought at auction from a Beverly Hills gallery, I.M. Chait, in March 2007 for $276,000.
The details match those of Cage’s purchase, which made headlines after the Hollywood star encountered financial difficulties in subsequent years.
The defendant-in-rem named in the civil forfeiture suit, incidentally, is “One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skull.”