Wyoming fossil retailer pleads guilty to smuggling dinosaur and other fossils into the US

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.

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 fossilzed 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:
Item                             Estimated Value
Micro-Raptor (4)                     $173,000
Dinosaur Eggs (10)                     $5,075
Keichosaurus (15)                       $3,990
Sinovenator (2)                         $70,000
Anchiormis (1)                          $30,000

Mongolia Origin:
Item                             Estimated Value
Bataar Skull (3)                    $1,875,000
Bataar lower leg (1)                  $75,000
Gallimimus foot (1)                   $18,750
Protoceratops (1)                     $100,000
Gallimimus skeleton (1)          $100,000

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).