NEW YORK (AP) — A judge challenged the government to beef up arguments it used to seize a dinosaur skeleton for its eventual shipment to Mongolia, saying Friday there was a "serious question" about whether the government had sufficiently alleged that the 70 million-year-old relic came from Mongolia or was removed in violation of its laws.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said in an order that a hearing on Wednesday made him question assumptions the government made in asking to seize the dinosaur bones. Federal agents took the fossil in June from a storage facility in New York and will hold it until its fate is determined by the courts.
The judge gave the government until Sept. 21 to explain better why it is entitled to keep the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, called Ty. The U.S. government intervened on behalf of Mongolia after the skeleton was sold at auction by Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions for $1.05 million.
Attorney Michael McCullough, who represents a Gainesville, Fla., fossils dealer, has said his client is entitled to keep the creature he spent a year putting together at great expense. McCullough told the judge on Wednesday that the government was incorrect when it alleged that the skeleton pieces were brought into the country in one $15,000 shipment. He said there were three other shipments and only 37 percent of the completed skeleton came from one specimen. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.
The mix of dinosaur parts caused the judge to refer to the skeleton on Wednesday as a "kind of Frankenstein model of a dinosaur" and to question whether the multiple parts make it more difficult to defend where it originated.
In Friday's order, the judge said there was "a serious question of whether the government has alleged sufficiently detailed facts supporting a reasonable belief" that the dinosaur pieces originated in the Nemegt Basin in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia or whether the dinosaur might have roamed the bordering territory in China as well.
The judge noted that the government maintains that substantially complete skeletons of Tyrannosaurus bataars have only been found in Mongolia but did not dispute claims by McCullough that less than full skeletons have been found elsewhere.
He also said some of the laws relied upon by the government require that the person bringing property into the United States know it has been stolen if it was stolen.
A government spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.