Florida Auction House Owner Pleads Guilty to Selling Rhino Horns
US authorities have announced that a Florida auction house owner has pleaded guilty to smuggling illegal rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, Art Daily reports.
Christopher Hayes, president and owner of Elite Estate Buyers Inc. and its subsidiary Elite Decorative Arts, has been fined $1.5 million, and faces a prison sentence of up to five years.
Hayes’ illegal operation was uncovered by Operation Crash, a special investigative task force that has caught several illegal wildlife smugglers in recent years (see Canadian Dealer Pleads Guilty to Rhino Horns Smuggling Attempt). An undercover agent working for the US Fish and Wildlife service bought two rhinoceros horns from Elite Decorative Arts, whilst another undercover agent consigned two horns.
Hayes is accused of selling a total of six horns from the highly endangered black rhinoceros, and of being part of “an illegal smuggling conspiracy in which the auction house sold rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn, elephant ivory and coral that were smuggled from the United States to China,” according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.
“As part of today’s plea agreement, Hayes and Elite have admitted to being part of a far reaching felony conspiracy in which the company helped smugglers traffic in endangered and protected species in interstate and foreign commerce, and falsified records and shipping documents related to the wildlife purchases in order to avoid the scrutiny of the FWS and US Customs and Border Protection,” the statement continues.
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