Manhattan Antique Dealers Plead Guilty to Selling Illegal Elephant Ivory


Luis Ferré-Sadurní, The New York Times

Date Published

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The owners of a Midtown Manhattan antiques shop pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally selling and offering for sale over $4.5 million in ivory from more than a dozen slaughtered elephants, the authorities said.

The shop owners, brothers Irving Morano, 47, and Samuel Morano, 49 — were arrested in September, about a year after undercover investigators bought an elephant-ivory carving at the store, Metropolitan Fine Arts and Antiques, on West 57th Street.

Investigators ultimately found 126 ivory artifacts — including troves of intricate carvings and two pairs of uncarved elephant tusks, one of them seven feet long — at the store, the authorities said. The prices listed for the objects totaled $4.5 million. One pair of tusks was priced at $200,000.

As part of their sentence, the brothers forfeited all of the ivory seized during the investigation and an additional 1,657 ivory carvings, according to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney. They were also ordered to pay $2,000 to the State Department of Environmental Conservation and to contribute $200,000 to two wildlife conservation groups.

“My clients were happy to make right by the situation,” said Julian Schreibman, the lawyer for the brothers.

The recovered items was the largest seizure of illegal elephant ivory in New York State history, Mr. Vance said in statement.

Poachers kill 96 elephants a day in Africa, and forest elephants could be extinct in the next 10 years, said John Calvelli, executive vice president of public affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society. New York, California and Hawaii are the largest markets for illegal ivory in the United States, he said.

Three years ago, New York tightened regulations meant to help keep African elephants from becoming extinct. The new restrictions effectively prohibited the sale of ivory except in limited circumstances, like the sale of antique musical instruments containing small amounts of ivory.

The Morano brothers had licenses to sell elephant ivory, but the 2014 restrictions made it illegal for them continue selling.

“Even with tougher laws enacted in 2014, New York remains one of the largest markets for illegal ivory in the country,” Mr. Vance said in his statement.

The law was first enforced in March when Landmark Gallery — a shop on West 58th Street, one block from the Morano brothers’ store — pleaded guilty to selling elephant ivory illegally.

The Moranos’ guilty pleas show that the new restrictions in New York are having an effect, said Mr. Calvelli of the conservation society.

The tusks discovered at the Moranos’ shop, including a pair from a young African savanna elephant, will be destroyed in Central Park along with a ton of other illegal ivory items on Aug. 3 as part of World Elephant Day.