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Doing time over fossils.

Peter L. Larson, a commercial fossil dealer, began serving a 2-year sentence last month for violating U.S. Customs limits and for stealing fossils from federal land. The sentence was handed down Jan. 29, following Larson's conviction last year.

The president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D., Larson is best known for discovering a largely complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen in South Dakota (SN: 11/11/95, p. 316). In 1992, federal agents raided his business and confiscated the dinosaur, to be used as evidence against the dealer.

Although prosecutors never actually used the fossil in Larson's trial, he was eventually indicted on 39 counts, including stealing fossils from public and private lands and making false statements to Customs officials. A Rapid City jury found Larson guilty of two felonies related to transporting more than $10,000 into and out of the country without declaring the amount. He was convicted of stealing a fossil worth less than $100 from federal lands and of illegally holding another fossil, both misdemeanors.

In addition to serving the 2 years, Larson must pay a fine of $5,000. His attorney, Patrick K. Duffy, calls the sentences unfair. The judge, he says, "didn't throw the book at Larson, he threw the entire New York City Public Library at him."

However, these penalties were not the maximum that Larson could have received, says David L. Zuercher, assistant U.S. attorney in Pierre, S.D. "Given the offenses of which he was convicted, these are pretty moderate sentences."

Larson is appealing his convictions.
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Title Annotation:Paleontology; commercial fossil dealer Peter L. Larson to serve 2-year sentence for stealing fossils from federal lands and violating US customs limits
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 6, 1996
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