Peck's Rex is back in the courts again. For old guys, dinosaurs can certainly cause a lot of trouble. Ownership of this tyrannosaurus rex was in dispute from the day his toe bone was discovered on Farm Service Agency land south of the Fort Peck Dam in 1997. Part of him was dug up, sold on the fossil black market and recovered by the FBI.
After negotiations among the Farm Service Agency, the Corps of Engineers, the Museum of the Rockies at MSU-Bozeman and fiercely dedicated local people, the non-profit Fort Peck Paleontology Field Station was organized to prepare the 65-million-year-old fossil for display where he was found, here in northeastern Montana. This dinosaur was the nucleus of the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, where a cast of his skeleton and a full-size fleshed-out replica stand ready to amaze visitors.
At the request of the Corps of Engineers, the actual fossil bones of Peck's Rex were moved this fall to the Museum of the Rockies, the legal repository of all fossils found on public land in Montana. Fort Peck Paleontology has gone dormant, most of its board of directors have resigned, and the field station is closed.
Now a lawsuit for $8.2 million in damages has been filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls alleging copyright infringement by Fort Peck Paleontology. Cast copies of bones from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D., were loaned to FPP to copy, to fill in for missing parts of Peck's Rex. This is a common practice when a full display mount is desired, because fossil hunters never find all of the bits of a dinosaur's skeleton.
According to a report published in the Great Falls Tribune on Nov. 26, Peter Larson, president of Black Hills Institute, claims that the casts were never returned. He says he can prove that the pieces were used to make unauthorized copies for sale to others. The Black Hills Institute is a for-profit company that excavates, prepares and sells fossils.
A cast copy of an arm bone came from Sue, a T. rex that was sold at auction to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for more than $8 million. Several cast pieces of skull were loaned from another T. rex, Stan, which is on display at the Black Hills Institute.
Larson in the Tribune's report claims that a "substantial" part of the Peck's Rex skull on display at the Museum of the Rockies came from Stan's skull.
An e-mail sent Tuesday from Montana State University to news media states that the Peck's Rex skull is not on display at the Museum of the Rockies, but it is stored there.
"The Museum of the Rockies is not involved in this lawsuit in any shape or form," said Sheldon McKamey, director. "Peck's Rex is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and we are merely storing the actual fossils for them at their request in our role as a repository for federal collections."
The statement said the Corps of Engineers is not involved in the lawsuit.
At this moment, the chairman of FPP, John Rabenberg, doesn't believe they are involved in the lawsuit either. He hasn't been served with any papers and he doesn't believe it will come to that. He said he doesn't want to legitimize Larson's claims by arguing them in the press. There was no written understanding of the terms of the Black Hills Institute loan to FPP.
Rabenberg said Larson came to the Field Station about a year ago and restated his claim to the cast bones. Rabenberg said he told Larson to take the casts but he refused.
"He (Larson) wants to be the only source to get a T. rex. He said that," Rabenberg said. "He's commercial, totally commercial. He just wants to close us down."