Friday, September 29, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 29, 2023 | Back issues
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Auction House Guilty |of Rhino Horn Smuggling

(CN) - The president of an exclusive Boynton Beach, Fla. auction house pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory and coral to China.

Christopher Hayes, president of Elite Estate Buyers, admitted to being part of a conspiracy to falsify shipping documents and use third-parties to get the illegal items out of the country.

In one case, prosecutors say, Hayes sold two horns of an endangered black rhinoceros for $80,500 to a Texas man he knew was intent on smuggling them to a Chinese buyer.

Two more rhino horns were purchased by an undercover special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another undercover agent with the FWS consigned two horns for auction.

"Not only did Hayes and his company illegally profit from obtaining rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, but his greed and indifference contributed to the senseless slaughter of these animals," said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer in a written statement.

Hayes, 55, of Wellington, Florida, will be sentenced by Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley on a date yet to be determined. He faces a maximum penalty is five years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 for his business, and a maximum fine of $250,000 for himself.

The auction house also agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine, and to no longer engage in the receipt, consignment or sale of endangered or protected wildlife, or items containing endangered or protected wildlife, including items containing rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and red coral.

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