Christopher Hayes, the President and owner of a Florida auction house was sentenced May 20 in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, to 36 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release for his role in the illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which he bought, sold and smuggled rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn, elephant ivory and coral that were rhen smuggled from the United States to China.
Hayes’ corporation, Elite Estate Buyers Inc., located in Boynton Beach, Florida, was ordered to pay a $1.5 million criminal fine to the Lacey Act reward fund. The court also banned the corporation from trading wildlife during a five year term of probation.
The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida and Director Dan Ashe for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
“Those involved in the auction business have a special responsibility to make sure that their business does not further the illegal trade in wildlife,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “Each illegally-traded horn or tusk represents not an antique object but a dead animal.”
The prosecution of Elite and Hayes is part of Operation Crash, a continuing effort by the Special Investigations Unit for the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory.
“This case highlights the part seemingly legitimate auction houses and other businesses can play in the illegal trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products – as well as the direct connection U.S. businesses and citizens have to this international crisis,” said Director Ashe. “This conviction of Elite Estate Buyers – the first of such a company and its president – demonstrates our resolve in going after all those involved in the illegal wildlife trade and should serve as a warning to similar operations, both here in the United States and abroad, that they are on our radar screen and will be brought to justice for their role in the destruction of these animals.”