WACO, Texas (CN) — Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that an Irish man accused of trafficking endangered black rhinoceros horns from Texas to New York City was extradited to the Lone Star State.
John Slattery, of Rathkeale, Ireland, appeared Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske in Waco federal court, four days after he was extradited from Ireland. A federal grand jury indicted the County Limerick man in 2014 on one count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, one count of illegal wildlife trafficking and one count of falsifying wildlife documentation in violation of the Lacey Act.
Tuesday’s indictment describes Slattery’s alleged purchase of one black rhinoceros mount from a taxidermist in Joshua, Texas, for $10,000 in 2010. It claims he then went to a separate taxidermy auction house in Austin and tried to buy a black rhinoceros head containing two more horns but was unable to produce the required Texas resident identification. Prosecutors say such identification would prove the sale would not be an interstate sale in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Slattery, who is described in other court papers as belonging to a gang of Irish Travelers called the Rathkeale Rovers, allegedly used an unidentified “day laborer” as a straw buyer to get around the Texas resident requirement in September 2010. Europol has accused the Rovers gang of a conspiracy to plunder tens of millions of dollars worth of rhino horn and other priceless Chinese artifacts from British museums.
“Straw Buyer provided his Texas driver’s license to an employee of the Texas Auction House and handed the employee $18,000 in cash in exchange for a Black rhinoceros mount, which held two horns,” the 13-page indictment states. “The remainder of the rhinoceros mount, minus the horns, was left at the Texas Auction House.”
Prosecutors claim Slattery completed the sale of four horns to an unidentified buyer at a tea house in Queens, New York, for $50,000. They claim he, co-defendant Patrick Sheridan, and Michael Slattery, Jr., gave the buyer “a false and fictitious Endangered Species Bill of Sale, dated August 14, 2010, for ‘2 Black rhinoceros mounts’ and bearing a ‘U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’ emblem.”
Slattery and Sheridan allegedly left the U.S. on Nov. 16, 2010 — the same day they were paid the $50,000. They allegedly retrieved the four horns from a Missouri auction house one month later.
Sheridan was extradited from the UK in 2015 and pleaded guilty before serving 14 months in federal prison. Slattery Jr. pleaded guilty in 2014 and was sentenced to 14 months.
Slattery is scheduled to be arraigned on June 2.
The black rhinoceros is noted for having a hooked lip that differentiates it from the square-lipped white rhinoceros. A native of eastern and southern Africa, the black rhinoceros is considered critically endangered due to strong demand for its horns, which are used in folk remedies in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam. Approximately 1,215 were poached in 2014 and 1,054 were poached in 2016 — figures the World Wildlife Fund describes as “unsustainably high.”