Joseph Chait, 38, of Beverly Hills, California, the senior auction administrator of I.M. Chait Gallery, was sentenced on June 22 to one year and one day in prison and a $10,000 fine for conspiracy to smuggle illegal wildlife products. The products, made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and coral, had a market value of at least $1 million, according to U.S. Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division.
On March 9, Chait pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken, who imposed the sentence. In addition to the term of prison, Chait was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Chait and his co-conspirators engaged in illegal trafficking of wildlife with a market value of at least $1 million. Chait personally falsified documents, including customs forms, by stating that rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory items were made of bone, wood or plastic.
In addition to falsifying customs forms, Chait and his co-conspirators conducted their wildlife trafficking using a variety of smuggling methods.
As a result of a Presidential Executive Order, trade in protected wildlife such as rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory has been significantly restricted in the last two years, except for those instances where sellers can prove that the item is a genuine antique which is more than 100 years old.
“Conspiring in the trafficking [of] endangered wildlife is a serious crime, and those involved in the auction industry should take note that facilitating this trade can result in prison,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden.
“As this investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents demonstrates, United States citizens and businesses continue to be involved in international wildlife trafficking – facilitating and magnifying consumer demand for rhino horn, elephant ivory and other illegal products that is driving the slaughter of imperiled species in the wild,” said Director Dan Ashe for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The stiff sentence and fines imposed today on Joseph Chait for his crimes serve notice to those engaged in similar criminal activity that their day of reckoning in court is coming.”