WASHINGTON – David Hausman, an antiques dealer in Manhattan, pleaded guilty today in Manhattan federal court to obstruction of justice and creating false records, in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In the plea agreement, Hausman admitted that he committed these wildlife offenses while holding himself out to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) as an antiques expert who purportedly wanted to help FWS investigate rhinoceros horn trafficking; in reality, he was covertly engaging in illegal activity himself. Hausman was arrested in February 2012 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide, multi-agency crackdown on those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.
“Trafficking in endangered species like the black rhinoceros is an egregious violation of the laws enacted by Congress to protect endangered species from extinction,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno. “Mr. Hausman misled officers in a federal government investigation, falsified records and concealed his own purchase, sale and profit from illegal trade in black rhinoceros horns. This prosecution should send a strong message that we will vigorously prosecute those who deliberately violate wildlife protection laws.”
“David Hausman pretended he was helping law enforcement protect a species from being wiped out but instead he was contributing to the very problem,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “The laws that protect animals are not optional and will be enforced by this office vigorously since an important, even if less recognized, measure of justice is how we enforce the laws that protect endangered species. Thanks to the outstanding investigative work conducted by law enforcement in this case, Hausman’s deceptions were unsuccessful and he will now be held to account for his crimes.”
Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law, and all black rhinoceros species are endangered.
Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Nevertheless, the demand for Rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population.
Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior’s FWS in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns. The investigation is being led by the Special Investigations Unit of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement and involves a nationwide task force of agents focused on rhino trafficking.
According to the information, plea agreement and statements made during court proceedings:
In December 2010, Hausman – while purporting to help the government crack down on illegal rhinoceros trading – advised FWS that the taxidermied head of a black rhinoceros containing two horns had been illegally sold by a Pennsylvania auction house. Upon learning that the sale was not finalized, Hausman covertly purchased the rhinoceros mount himself, using a “straw buyer” to conceal that he was the true purchaser because federal law prohibits interstate trafficking in endangered species. Hausman instructed the straw buyer not to communicate with him about the matter by email to avoid creating a paper trail that could be followed by law enforcement. After the purchase was completed, Hausman directed the straw buyer to remove the horns and mail them to him. He then made a realistic set of fake horns using synthetic materials and directed the straw buyer to attach them on the rhinoceros head in order to deceive law enforcement in the event that they conducted an investigation. After his arrest in February 2012, Hausman contacted the straw buyer and they agreed that the rhinoceros mount should be burned or concealed.
In a second incident, in September 2011, Hausman responded to an Internet offer to sell a (different) taxidermied head of a black rhinoceros containing two horns. Unbeknownst to Hausman, the on-line seller was an undercover federal agent. Before purchasing the horns on Nov. 15, 2011, Hausman directed the undercover agent to send him an email falsely stating that the mounted rhinoceros was over 100 years old, even though the agent had told Hausman that the rhinoceros mount was only 20 to 30 years old. There is an antique exception for certain trade in rhinoceros horns that are over 100 years old. By creating the false record as to the age of the horns, Hausman sought to conceal his illegal conduct. Hausman also insisted on a cash transaction and told the undercover agent not to send additional emails so there would be no written record. After buying the black rhinoceros mount at a truck stop in Princeton, Ill., agents followed Hausman and observed him sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot.
In February 2012 at the time of his arrest, FWS agents seized four rhinoceros heads from Hausman’s apartment as well as six black rhinoceros horns – two of which were the very horns he was seen sawing off in the parking lot – numerous carved and partially carved rhinoceros horns, fake rhinoceros horns and $28,000 in cash.
Hausman, 67, of New York, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and one count of creating a false record in violation of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection statute, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Hausman faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for these offenses. Under the terms of the plea agreement, almost all of the items recovered from Hausman’s apartment at the time of his arrest will be forfeited or put toward the criminal fine, except for three items for which Hausman established legal purchase and antique status. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken on Dec. 5, 2012, at 2:00 p.m.
U.S. Attorney Bharara and Assistant Attorney General Moreno commended FWS and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Newark for their outstanding work in this investigation.
The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Complex Frauds Unit and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Richard A. Udell, a Senior Trial Attorney with the Environmental Crimes Section, are in charge of the prosecution.