A Beverly Hills auctioneer was indicted Wednesday in Manhattan, New York with conspiracy to smuggle 15 rhinoceros horns valued at more than $2 million, prosecutors said.
Jacob Chait, the head of acquisitions at I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers, appeared in court on Tuesday to face the charge in violation of the Lacey Act, a 1900 law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife.
Prosecutors say the scheme was part of a years-long trafficking conspiracy between 2009 and 2012 to buy rhinoceros horns and taxidermy mount and sell them to foreign buyers. In one incident, Chait allegedly smuggled two endangered black rhino horns to China in his luggage.
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Rhinoceros horns are worth more per pound than gold due to the increasing scarcity in supply and the elevated demand in Asia, prosecutors said. The trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory has been restricted since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 180 countries around the world.
Chait's indictment is connected to a nationwide crackdown by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns and other wildlife crimes.
The charge the 34-year-old faces carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.