NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – When you think of a crackdown on illegal goods in New York City it could mean just about anything. But on Thursday there was word of a bust having to do with, of all things, ivory.
The effort was part crime busting and part humanitarian, CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport reported.
A string of pearls, a wise owl and a smiling Buddha were all part of one of the largest seizures of illegal ivory ever in New York State, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said.
“From this investigation, we recovered more than $2 million worth and close to one ton of illegal ivory,” Vance said.
1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa with more on this story:
But beyond the intricate and ornate beauty of the ivory pieces lies a story of cruelty and brutality.
“Tens of thousands of elephants are killed illegally every year to supply the ivory trade,” said John Robinson, the executive VP of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Authorities said all of the ivory was harvested from endangered, threatened elephants. Lawmakers and wildlife conservation experts called the crime unconscionable.
“Which is why today’s announcement is so important,” Johnson said.
At the center of Thursday’s seizure were two men and their companies, Mukesh Gupta of Raja Jewels Inc., and Johnson Jung-Chien Lu of New York Jewelry Mart. Both pleaded guilty to illegal commercialization of wildlife — of selling illegal ivory — but neither spoke about it to reporters.
“I don’t know nothing,” Gupta said.
Environmental law in New York requires a special permit to sell ivory, but getting one requires proving the ivory was harvested from elephants before they were listed as endangered species. Commercial hunting of elephants has been prohibited since the animals were placed on the endangered species list in the 1970s, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond with more from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office:
Neither Gupta nor Lu had such a permit, DA Vance said.
“Poachers of endangered species who profit from wildlife crime should not have a market place in Manhattan,” Vance said.
As part of the crackdown Gupta and Lu were fined a combined $55,000 and forfeited more than $1 million of their ivory goods, officials said.
After paying their fines, Gupta and Lu were released.
Wildlife experts said tens of thousands of elephants are killed illegally every year to supply the ivory trade.
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