MANHATTAN (CN) – The owner of an antique shop in New York City’s affluent Sutton Place enclave pleaded guilty Thursday to felonies related to his sale of illegal elephant ivory.
Alexander Sakhai’s plea follows a July 21 raid of his Second Avenue shop Alexander’s Antiques in which authorities confiscated 130 illegal ivory items worth at least $25,000.
One of several raids conducted by the state in recent years, New York is striving to crack down on a trade that pulls in between $7 billion and $23 billion per year.
America ranks alongside China as the primary destinations for the ivory black market, and New York recently dropped from first to third place as a U.S. destination for ivory products.
In addition to ramping up prosecutions, the state has made several public spectacles in recent years of destroying the seized ivory. At one such display in August, authorities used a conveyor belt to feed $8.5 million worth of artifacts, vases, trinkets and tusks into an industrial rock crusher that ground the tchotchkes to dust.
Authorities say Sakhai’s shop was raided after an undercover officer with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation received a tip and purchased an item made from illegal ivory in July.
Experts at the American Museum of Natural History, where the item was brought for morphological analysis, confirmed that the piece was carved from authentic elephant ivory.
“Our ECOs are dedicated to cracking down on the illegal market for ivory and bringing an end to the senseless slaughtering of the world’s elephants,” Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state conservation department, said in a statement. “This sends a clear message that we will not allow this trade to continue in New York. I commend the work of New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance and his staff for their swift actions in prosecuting this immoral criminal activity.”
Sakhai and his business were each charged with two counts of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class E felony, and two counts Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class D felony.
While Sakhai pleaded guilty to the violation of Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, his business pleaded guilty to the E felony of illegal Commercialization of Elephant Ivory.
The deal requires Alexander’s Antiques to donate $60,000 toward the Wildlife Conservation Society’s fight against elephant poaching in Africa, and to forfeit more than 100 ivory articles to New York state.
“We must all do our part to protect this important species from extinction,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said of elephants in a statement Thursday.
The state’s press release references a 2016 report by the Great Elephant Census, which found there are only about 350,000 African Savana elephants left. In less than a decade, the world has seen a decline of approximately 30 percent in the Savanna elephant population.
Elephants are listed as a threatened species worldwide. New York classifies the sale of more than $1,500 worth of products made from elephant ivory without having first obtained a DEC license or permit as a felony.
In 2014 Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced and signed a new law that effectively banned the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horns, and strengthened the criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions are endangering elephant and rhinoceros populations worldwide.
The law allowed for limited exceptions on product, such as antiques demonstrated to be at least 100 years old and containing less than 20 percent of ivory.