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Crime & Litigation



Va. man gets 3 months for smuggling dinosaur skeleton

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Written by LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 10:01
Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton, which was returned by the United States to the government of Mongolia last year. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. NEW YORK (AP) – A Virginia fossils dealer was sentenced Tuesday to three months in prison even after a prosecutor described his cooperation with law enforcement in heroic terms, saying he enabled more than 18 largely complete dinosaur fossils to be located, enough for Mongolia to open its first dinosaur museum.

Eric Prokopi, 39, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein for smuggling a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton from Mongolia into the United States by making false statements to U.S. officials, including that the then-unassembled bones were merely reptile fossils from Great Britain.

Once assembled, the skeleton was sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions for more than $1 million before it was seized by the U.S. government and returned to Mongolia.

Hellerstein also ordered Prokopi to serve three months community confinement and 100 hours of community service.

Hellerstein said Prokopi was to be commended for his cooperation and for working as a commercial paleontologist to enhance the world's knowledge of the origins of man.

But the judge said Prokopi had “done a bad thing” and needed punishment.

Prokopi apologized and said he hoped to rebuild his business with an emphasis on getting proper documentation for bones he purchases.

“I sincerely love fossils,” said Prokopi, of Williamsburg, Va. He was living in Gainesville, Fla., when he was charged with importing multiple shipments of dinosaur bones between 2010 and 2012 that had been stolen from the Gobi Desert region of Mongolia.

Prokopi also said he hoped to repair any damage to the field of paleontology caused by his case.

Defense attorney Georges Lederman had asked the judge to spare Prokopi from prison, citing his cooperation and noting that the charges had led to his divorce, the loss of his home and a stigma that had caused others in his profession to resist working with him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin S. Bell said Prokopi's knowledge had aided investigations into the dinosaur fossil trade that were continuing in Wyoming, California and New York.

He said his cooperation “has been useful, has been fruitful, has been important.”

In a letter to the judge, the prosecutor wrote “it is safe to say that there is not an active fossil investigation that has not been informed, to some degree, by information given by Prokopi in this case.”

He said Prokopi had met with agents and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security as well as prosecutors in four offices, providing information crucial to law enforcement's “revitalized efforts to police what had essentially become a black market in stolen national treasuries that operated in plain sight.”

Bell said Prokopi had “developed their knowledge of the players in the trade of not only dinosaur fossils, but other natural treasures.”

As a result of Prokopi's work, he wrote, Mongolia is opening a museum based on dinosaurs “recovered in this case alone.”

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-03-14 2328GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton, which was returned by the United States to the government of Mongolia last year. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 13:33
 

Man arrested at LAX says grenade was dad’s old souvenir

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Written by Associated Press   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 08:31

Check-in counters in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Image by TimBray at en.wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Stanford University professor arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly having a grenade in his luggage says he was returning from his late father's home with the World War II-era souvenir.

Gary Walter Cox tells the Los Angeles Times he cleaned out his childhood home in Palos Verdes, Calif., after the recent deaths of his parents and had forgotten the memorabilia he packed in his carry-on luggage included the grenade.

He says his father, a retired Navy captain, used it as a paperweight.

Cox was arrested last week after screeners found the grenade as he was attempting to board a flight home to San Jose.

The 58-year-old political science professor is free on $500,000 bail. He said Saturday police have told him the charge will be dropped.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-01-14 2122GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

 Check-in counters in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Image by TimBray at en.wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 08:37
 

Suspected Islamic radical arrested in Jewish museum shooting

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Written by Pauline TALAGRAND, Andrea BAMBINO   
Monday, 02 June 2014 10:26
2009 photo of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels. Credit: Michael Wal, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and1.0 Generic license. PARIS (AFP) - A Frenchman with suspected ties to Islamic radicals in Syria has been arrested over last week's fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, investigation sources told AFP on Sunday.

The suspected gunman, 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, was arrested Friday in the southern French city of Marseille in possession of a Kalashnikov rifle and a handgun similar to the ones used in the attack on May 24, the sources said.

Nemmouche has been detained on suspicion of murder and attempted murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise, a judicial source said.

The office of the Belgian federal prosecutor confirmed a suspect was being held.

"I can confirm the arrest of the suspect," a spokeswoman told AFP.

The shooting by a lone gunman killed three people outright -- an Israeli couple and a Frenchwoman, while the fourth victim, a 24-year-old Belgian man, was left clinically dead.

Authorities had released chilling security camera footage of the gunman, wearing a cap and sunglasses, walking into the museum, removing an automatic rifle from a bag and shooting through a door before making an exit.

Belgian media reported that the assailant used a camera to film his attack in the same way as Mohammed Merah, the Frenchman who shot dead several Jews in Toulouse two years ago.

Customs officials detained Nemmouche at Marseille's coach station on board a bus arriving from Amsterdam via Brussels.

According to sources close to the investigation, he was carrying a Kalashnikov automatic rifle and a gun with ammunition in his luggage, as well as a miniature video camera.

"These weapons were of the type used in Brussels," said one source. Another source close to the investigation said that "many elements are consistent with the shooting in Brussels."

The European Jewish Congress immediately drew a parallel between the events in Brussels and the shootings by Merah and called for greater security at Jewish institutions and tougher legislation for dealing with anti-Semitic crime.

Originally from Roubaix in northern France, Nemmouche is believed to have traveled to join Islamist fighters in Syria in 2013, and was known to the French domestic intelligence agency DGSI, the source said.

He is being questioned by the DGSI who can hold him for up to 96 hours, until Tuesday, or 144 hours, to Thursday, if investigators invoke an imminent terrorist threat.

Sources close to the investigation told AFP that during the first 24 hours of interrogation, Nemmouche remained silent.

Nemmouche was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for a robbery in a small supermarket in the northern town of Tourcoing in August 2006, his lawyer Soulifa Badaoui said.

She said he had at the time denied any involvement and added that a subsequent raid in his house yielded no incriminating evidence.

The attack was the first such incident in more than 30 years in Belgium and has revived fears of a return of violent anti-Semitism to Europe.

Some 40,000 Jews live in Belgium, roughly half in Brussels and the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.

The profile of Nemmouche also stands to revive a row in France over the monitoring of those who leave to country to fight in Syria.

France unveiled plans in April to try to stop the increasing numbers of young French Muslims heading to fight in Syria's civil war and becoming radicalised before returning home.

President Francois Hollande said Sunday that the suspect was "arrested as soon as he set foot in France".

"The government is mobilised to track down jihadists and prevent them from causing more harm," he said, adding that the action plan to fight them will "be strengthened in the coming months."

According to the latest figures, some 780 people have left France to fight with jihadists in Syria.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
2009 photo of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels. Credit: Michael Wal, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and1.0 Generic license.
Last Updated on Monday, 02 June 2014 11:02
 

Military medals stolen from home of WWII veteran

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Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:29

The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest United States Armed Forces' individual military award. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Albuquerque police are asking the public to keep an eye out for military medals stolen from an 89-year-old World War II veteran.

The framed service medals were among items taken from Roy Hopper's home during a break-in last month. At the time, Hopper was in the hospital after falling and breaking his hip.

Hopper's name is inscribed on the back of the medals. Police say they could turn up on Craigslist or at pawn shops.

“He is totally devastated. His morale is very low,” said Lewis Wasson, one of Hopper's friends.

Hopper has been honored by former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. But his friends say his most treasured honor came in 1991 when he was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic efforts during World War II.

Hopper participated in the Normandy Invasion before being captured by the Germans. He spent nine months in a camp for prisoners of war.

Investigators searched Hopper's home for evidence but didn't find any fingerprints, police officer Simon Drobik said. Investigators believe the suspect was wearing gloves.

Guns and cash were also missing from Hopper's home.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-05-27-14 1940GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest United States Armed Forces' individual military award. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:34
 

Chinese antiques dealer sentenced for smuggling rhino horns

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Written by SAMANTHA HENRY, Associated Press   
Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:10

Black rhinos in Tanzania. Image by Brocken Inaglory. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – An antiques dealer from China has been sentenced to nearly six years in U.S. federal prison after admitting he was the mastermind of an international smuggling ring that specialized in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory.

Speaking through an interpreter, Zhifei Li expressed remorse for his actions and asked to be reunited with his sick 4-year-old daughter in China before his sentencing Tuesday in U.S. District court in Newark.

The 30-year-old pleaded guilty in December to 11 counts, including conspiracy, smuggling, illegal wildlife trafficking and making fake documents.

The U.S. attorney's office says Li, operating through his business Overseas Treasure Finding, paid three antiques dealers in the United States to help him smuggle the items to China. Prosecutors say the 30 smuggled rhino horns plus other objects made from the horns and from elephant ivory were worth about $4.5 million.

The horns were allegedly shipped to Hong Kong and then mainland China wrapped in duct tape and hidden in porcelain vases. All species of the rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law, and international trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory has been regulated since the mid-1970s.

U.S. Magistrate Esther Salas ordered Li to serve his sentence of five years and 10 months in the U.S. before he faces deportation to his native Shandong Province. He was also ordered to forfeit $3.5 million in proceeds from his admitted criminal activity.

Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, praised what he said was one of the longest sentences ever imposed in the U.S. for a wildlife smuggling offense.

“The multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife market is supplied by animal poaching of unthinkable brutality and fed by those willing to profit from such cruelty,” Fishman said in a statement.

Salas said she hoped the sentencing would send a strong message to would-be poachers and smugglers in order to “prevent the innocent slaughter of these magnificent creatures.”

Li was arrested as part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-05-27-14 2247GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

Black rhinos in Tanzania. Image by Brocken Inaglory. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:29
 
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