WASHINGTON – Lin Feng Xu, 31, an antique dealer in China, has pleaded guilty to smuggling and to violating the Endangered Species Act in connection with the illegal export of African elephant ivory in his carry-on luggage.
According to documents filed in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., today, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security officer at JFK International Airport in Queens, N.Y., alerted inspectors with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Sept. 17, 2011, that Xu, a Chinese national, was carrying suspected wildlife items in his carry-on luggage based on x-ray screening. When questioned about 18 carved art objects apparently made of ivory, Xu initially stated that he did not know what they were made from and that they had been purchased for approximately $3,000 to 4,000 at U.S. auction houses. In pleading guilty, Xu has admitted that he knew that the carvings were ivory and that they had a value of approximately $50,000. Also, Xu knew that it was a crime to export ivory from the United States without required documents and approval, according to papers filed in Court. Xu packed the ivory carvings in aluminum foil in order to conceal their outline from x-ray screening.
According to an expert examination of the ivory carvings, most are newly carved ivory and not genuine antiques. The African elephant is listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty regulating trade on endangered species to which the United States is a party. The global demand for antiques and art made of or containing elephant ivory is believed to have resulted in a significant impact on the species and given life to a thriving black market. Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand remain high, thus causing continued elephant poaching and illegal ivory finding its way into international and domestic markets.
Xu was charged with a felony count for illegal smuggling that carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain from the offense. Xu was also charged with a misdemeanor violation of the ESA for knowingly engaging in trade of ivory specimens, contrary to the provisions of CITES, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, or twice the gross gain from the crime.
The Xu investigation was conducted by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Regional Office of Law Enforcement, with assistance from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Inspectors, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the TSA. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Pravda of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.