WASHINGTON—A Massachusetts man was convicted today by a jury in federal court in Boston of seven felonies related to the illegal importation and illegal trafficking of sperm whale teeth and narwhal tusks, the Department of Justice announced today.
The federal jury in Boston found David L. Place, 57, of Nantucket, Mass., guilty on seven felony counts of conspiracy, Lacey Act, and smuggling violations for buying and illegally importing sperm whale teeth and narwhal tusks into the United States, as well as selling the teeth after their illegal importation.
The evidence showed that from 2001 to 2006, Place knowingly purchased and imported sperm whale teeth and narwhal tusks into the United States in violation of federal law. Sperm whales are classified as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is illegal to import parts of sperm whale teeth into the United States without the requisite permits/certifications, and without declaring the merchandise at the time of importation to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Place conspired with persons located in Ukraine to illegally import the protected whale teeth for resale in the United States. Place owns Manor House Antiques Cooperative in Nantucket. Sperm whale teeth are commonly used for scrimshaw and can fetch large sums of money from collectors and tourists. Scrimshaw, as defined by the ESA, is any art form which involves the substantial etching or engraving of designs upon, or the substantial carving of figures, patterns, or designs from, any bone or tooth of any whale, dolphin or porpoise.
Place faces up to 20 years in prison as well as fines of up to $250,000 on smuggling charges. He also faces up to five years on each of five counts of Lacey Act violations and related conspiracy charges.
The case was investigated by agents from the Law Enforcement Offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Gary N. Donner and James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crime Section.