Saturday, July 14, 2012

Two Manhattan Jewelers Plead Guilty in Illegal Ivory Trade

Jewelry made of ivory seized from Manhattan's two jewelry stores

It has been recently reported that one of the largest seizures of illegal ivory on New York's Manhattan Island resulted in the arrest of two jewelers, who pleaded guilty on Thursday to marketing more than $2 million worth of the contraband. The seized goods consisted of bangles, necklaces, rings, statuettes, and toys, which made up only a small part of the one-ton seizure. According to one expert, the following items had probably cost lives of 25 elephants. But Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. stated that the illegal ivory trade is "booming and pushing both species of elephants to the brink of extinction." This case is one of several cases that has resulted in the onslaught of elephant populations around the world. The wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic stated that more than 24 tons of ivory was seized from around the world from estimated 2,500 elephants last year. The incident marked 2011 as the worst year for elephant poaching since the international ban on ivory in 1989. The network further added that much of the ivory leaves Africa through Kenya and Tanzania, and is bound for China and Thailand. The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) stated that poachers are responsible for deaths of eight to ten elephants in Africa this year, compared to four out of ten elephants from 2002 to 2006.
Johnson Jung-Chien Lu of the New York Jewelry Mart plead guilty for the illegal selling of ivory.

Prosecutors stated that the ivory was seized from two jewelry shops in Manhattan: the New York Jewelry Mart and Raja Jewels. Both the stores' owners, which included Johnson Jung-Chien Lu of New York Jewelry Mart and Mukesh Gupta of Raja Jewels, plead guilty to individual counts of illegal commercialization of wildlife. Neil Mendelsohn, an acting special agent in charge of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast region, said that the case began when an off-duty inspector for the service, whose job is to inspect baggage and cargo at the Kennedy International Airport, spotted ivory merchandise while shopping. Officials stated that Mr. Lu was arrested in January and Mr. Gupta in June. Mr. Gupta, who had more than $1 million in ivory, agreed to pay $45,000 in fines and other amends. Mr. Lu, who had about $120,000 in ivory, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine. The money would be sent to the Wildlife Conservation Society. According to Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick, the State Department of Environmental Conservation's investigative supervisor, Mr. Gupta provided him with accounts from Hong Kong from the 1970s while he was posing as a shopper during the investigation. He stated that it was an attempt to show that Mr. Gupta had bought ivory when it was legal to do so. However, most of his items had packaging showing that they were made in India and he did not have accounts for those. District Attorney Vance stressed that under the New York state law, retailers must have a license from the department to sell such products. The licensees are required to prove that their merchandise was legally obtained before the ban went into effect. He also added that the state law regards the illegal sale of ivory as a minor offense, which meant that neither Mr. Gupta nor Mr. Lu faced major prison time. Instead, they simply agreed to surrender the ivory and pay their fines.
Mukesh Gupta of Raja Jewels also plead guilty for the same charge.

I feel that this news should be considered to be a wake-up call for every state in the U.S when it comes to dealing with the illegal wildlife trade. This lucrative and illicit business is known to extend overseas, and is known to find its way in developed countries of Europe and North America in addition to China where the demand remains high for the consumption of such illegal wildlife products. In the U.S, especially in the case of New York where ivory smuggling is continuous, the penalty against this ongoing threat appears to be so lax that the perpetrators behind the crime do not end up serving major prison time. One example was seen in 2008 when six people were charged with the smuggling of several shipments of African elephant ivory worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Kennedy International Airport. In spite of the immense amount of ivory seized, all six of them were given sentences varying from a year's probation to fourteen months in prison. Following this recent ivory bust and the conviction of the two jewelry store owners, Mr. Vance persuaded state officials to improve the law to provide stricter penalties for the sale of such extraordinary amounts of ivory. I also believe that the state of New York needs to have stronger punishments against the illegal wildlife trade, and so does every other state that makes up the United States of America. The world of wildlife around the world is constantly being pillaged and plundered by poachers, and that so many animals are being illegally smuggled overseas to a particular destination. The U.S is one of the destinations for the illegal wildlife trade after China and Southeast Asia. One of the reasons is because of the abundance of ethnic enclaves, most notably Chinatowns where one can find pharmacies illegally selling traditional Chinese medicine which is known to include animal substances of endangered species. However, such products are not always restricted to a particular ethnic community. This report gives a clear idea about how these products also end up elsewhere in big cities across the U.S unsuspectingly. This is why it is extremely crucial for the U.S to play its part in combating the illegal wildlife trade by keeping a look out for any flow of illegal wildlife products spilling into its cities and towns, and implementing stronger penalties against those convicted of international wildlife crimes.

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