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Dinosaur bone case from Wyo. moves to federal court

Feb 11, 2014 - The Associated Press

DENVER -- A lawsuit in Denver's U.S. District Court names a "fossilized Tyrannosaurus bataar skull" as the defendant.

The legal maneuver essentially repatriates the skull, 67 million years after the dinosaur's demise, as if it were a living, breathing Mongolian citizen. The giant oval skull with long razor teeth will soon join a world-wide migration of dinosaur bones to a museum in the Mongolian capital city of Ulan Bator.

U.S. judges began ordering the return of dinosaur bones to Mongolia after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials and Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the president of Mongolia, came to an understanding about how to redress fossil smuggling two years ago, said Houston attorney Robert Painter, who represents Elbegdorj in his quest to repatriate Mongolian dinosaur bones.

The lawsuit against the skull of a T. bataar, a dinosaur cousin of T. rex, came on the heels of a guilty plea in a criminal case against 69-year-old Eagle dinosaur vendor Rick Rolater in federal court. Rolater sells rare gems, petrified wood tables and mammoth tusks in his pricy Jackson Hole and Beaver Creek shops, By Nature Gallery.

Over the past 20 years, dinosaur bones stolen from the Gobi Desert's Nemegt Basin, sometimes in midnight smuggling raids, eventually found their way to buyers. Wealthy private collectors were willing to pay up to $1 million for a full T. rex skeleton.

Another debate is raging over another T. bataar fossil, one bought by "National Treasure" actor Nicolas Cage for $267,000 after he outbid actor Leonardo DiCaprio at a Beverly Hills auction house in 2007.

Rolater, reached while attending the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, where museum curators can find dinosaur fossils from around the world for sale, said he could not comment.

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