Published: September 29, 2016
NEW YORK CITY — Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli, on September 22 announced the indictment of an antiques store, its owners and a salesperson for selling and offering for sale illegal elephant ivory at a total price of more than $4.5 million. Irving Morano, 46, Samuel Morano, 48, Victor Zilberman, 62, and Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques Inc are charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with two counts of illegal commercialization of wildlife.
“The conduct alleged in this case is abhorrent,” said Vance. “As the international elephant population hovers near extinction, too many ivory traders continue to profit from the slaughter of these beautiful, defenseless animals. My office and our DEC partners will do everything we can locally to protect this endangered species and end this moral, ecological and geopolitical crisis. In Manhattan, that means advocating for tougher laws, and aggressively prosecuting those who violate them.”
The illegal trade of wildlife is worth an estimated $7 billion to $23 billion annually, according to Interpol and the United Nations. Results from the 2016 Great Elephant Census show there are only 352,000 African savanna elephants still living — a decline of 30 percent over just the last seven years.
WCS estimates that between 2010 and 2012 alone, 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa to fuel the illegal ivory trade. New York remains one of the largest markets for ivory in the United States.
According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques is an art and antiques gallery, owned by brothers Irving Morano ad Samuel Morano, operating at 10 West 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The Moranos have been in the business of selling elephant ivory articles and carvings since at least 2007.
Under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, it is illegal to sell, or offer for sale, elephant ivory unless the seller has been granted a license from the DEC. In 2014, with the support of District Attorney Vance, DEC, WCS and others, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted new restrictions that effectively banned the sale of ivory articles except in very limited circumstances, and strengthened penalties for sellers. Although the defendants had previously held licenses to sell elephant ivory, these statutory changes made it effectively impossible for the defendants to renew their license, and the defendants did not attempt to renew it. Instead, the defendants elected to continue selling elephant ivory without a license.
On November 30, 2015, undercover officers from DEC purchased an elephant ivory carving from Victor Zilberman, a salesman for the gallery. Zilberman claimed the item was mammoth ivory, and the officers paid $2,000 directly to Irving Morano. After the sale, DEC analyzed the item and identified it as a carving made from elephant ivory and not mammoth ivory.
A search warrant executed at the gallery uncovered approximately 126 elephant ivory articles, including two pairs of uncarved elephant tusks — standing approximately 7 and 5 feet tall. DEC determined that the smaller pair of tusks were from an African savannah elephant, and that the elephant was a young adult when it died. The retail prices listed for the tusks were $200,000 and $150,000. The total of the listed sales prices for the ivory articles seized from the gallery exceeds $4.5 million. According to records maintained by DEC, this is the largest seizure of illegal elephant ivory in the history of New York State.
The items are expected to be destroyed as part of DEC’s Ivory Crush on World Elephant Day in August 2017.
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