Irish 'Traveler' Arrested for Rhino Horn Trade
(CN) - An Irish national was arrested for passing fraudulent documents connected to his alleged sale for $50,000 of four black rhinoceros horns, the Justice Department said.
Michael Slattery Jr., 25, fraudulently purchased a set of black rhinoceros horns in Texas and then traveled to New York and used a falsified document to sell the horns for $50,000, according to the federal complaint filed in Brooklyn.
A federal magistrate on Wednesday detained Slattery, whom court records describe as a member of The Rathkeale Rovers.
Also known as Irish Travelers, Europol says this nomadic, tight-knit extended family group has been involved in an epidemic of raids on museums in Europe involving the theft of rhinoceros horns.
The group allegedly leverages the rising price for rhinoceros horns in the black market to be used for traditional medicines and carving.
Prosecutors say Slattery traveled from England to Texas in 2010 to acquire black rhinoceros horns. A day laborer with a Texas driver's license allegedly acted as a straw buyer for Slattery and others to buy two horns from an auction house in Austin.
The group then traveled to New York where they presented a fraudulent Endangered Species Bill of Sale and sold those two and two other horns to an individual for $50,000, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors hail Slattery's arrest as the latest victory for Operation Crash, a nationwide, multiagency crackdown into illegal rhinoceros trade. The operation takes its name from the term crash given for a herd of rhinoceros.
Some Chinese people believe that drinking from rhinoceros horn cups with bring good health. The giant, prehistoric beasts are protected by U.S. and international laws. More than 90 percent of wild rhino populations have been slaughtered illegally since the 1970s, because of the price their horns can bring, the Justice Department says.
"South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to more than 618 in 2012," prosecutors said in the statement.
The only predator of the rhinoceros is humans. Prosecutors said increasing demand is partly responsible for fueling a thriving black market that includes fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.