On June 19, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York issued an arrest warrant for a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton. The warrant allowed U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents to take custody of the dinosaur bones, which previously had been scheduled for sale in New York City by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions Inc.
The legal battle over the bones had begun a month earlier in Texas. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, the president of Mongolia, filed a petition in Dallas state district court alleging that the bataar bones scheduled for sale by Heritage Auctions may have originated in the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Tsakhia sought an ex parte temporary restraining order to block the sale, which 44th District Judge Carlos Cortez granted.
Cortez’s TRO barred Heritage Auctions from selling the bones. Heritage Auctions agreed to permit Tsakhia to send scientists to New York to inspect the bones on June 5 or June 6, according to Tsakhia’s lawyer Robert Painter and Heritage Auctions’ attorney James Krause.
The scientists went and their findings show that the bones came from the Gobi Desert, says Painter. Tsakhia then launched “diplomatic negotiations” with the U.S. government, Painter reports. Tsakhia sent the scientists’ findings to prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The prosecutors filed a request with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking forfeiture of the bataar bones, citing Mongolian law barring private ownership of dinosaur bones retrieved in the Mongolia. That request prompted U.S. District Judge Kevin B. Castel of the Southern District of New York to issue the arrest warrant for the bones.
A conference in the case is scheduled for July 19, according to PACER.
Sharon Levin, chief of the asset forfeiture unit with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, refers questions to a spokeswoman who did not return a telephone call.
Krause, a partner in Dallas' Friedman & Feiger, did not return a telephone call seeking comment regarding the arrest warrant.
Luis Martinez, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Division of Homeland Security Investigations, says: “We have taken custody of the bones until they are returned to the rightful owner.” Martinez adds that the court will determine the rightful owner and the burden will not be on Mongolia to prove ownership.
Painter, of Houston’s Painter Law Firm, says Tsakhia plans to take no further action in the Dallas court but has not yet dismissed that suit.
-- Miriam Rozen