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Press Release

Middlesex County Man Admits Selling Carvings Made of Sperm Whale Ivory

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – A Middlesex County, New Jersey, man today admitted the interstate sale of carvings made of sperm whale ivory, Acting U.S Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.

Richard Gontarek, 55, of Woodbridge, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer in Newark federal court to an information, charging him with two counts of violating the Lacey Act, by selling to a buyer in Pennsylvania carvings made of sperm whale ivory that Gontarek should have known were possessed in violation of New Jersey State law.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Jan. 3, 2018, and on Dec. 6, 2018, Gontarek shipped a package containing a carving made from the tooth of a sperm whale to a buyer in Etter, Pennsylvania, in exchange for payment. Sperm whales are listed in Appendix I to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The Lacey Act makes it a crime to sell in interstate commerce wildlife possessed in violation of any state law when in the exercise of due care the seller should have known that the wildlife was possessed in violation of the state law. New Jersey state law makes it unlawful for any person to possess with intent to sell ivory or any item that contains or is made from ivory.

As part of his plea agreement, Gontarek has agreed to pay a fine of $2,800 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacey Act Reward Fund.

Each of the charges to which Gontarek pleaded guilty carries with it a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000.  Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2022.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, under the direction of Resident Agent in Charge Sean Mann, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen P. O’Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Government Fraud Unit in Newark.

Updated September 22, 2021

Press Release Number: 21-427