Court records filed in recent days tie the secretive Irish Travelers to rhino horn heists. The travelers had been better known for roaming the United States, carrying out shady home improvement scams, but authorities now claim some members overseas are behind a wave of horn thefts from European museums. Below is the U.S. Department of Justice release on the recent arrest:

Irish National Arrested for Passing Fraudulent Documents in Connection with His Sale of Four Black Rhinoceros Horns
Aug. 18, 2013

Earlier today, a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn detained an Irish national who was arrested on Saturday and charged in a complaint for false labeling in connection with his alleged role in international rhinoceros horn smuggling in violation of the Lacey Act.

The arrest and charge is a result of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide effort led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horns.

The Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court in the Eastern District of New York alleging that Michael Slattery Jr., fraudulently purchased a set of black rhinoceros horns in Texas and then travelled to New York and used a falsified document to sell the horns for $50,000.

According to the complaint filed in on Sept. 14, in 2010 Slattery traveled from England to Texas to acquire black rhinoceros horns. Slattery and others then used a day laborer with a Texas driver’s license as a straw buyer to purchase two horns from an auction house in Austin. The complaint charges that Slattery and his group then traveled to New York where they presented a fraudulent Endangered Species Bill of Sale and sold those two and two other horns to an individual for $50,000.

According to court records and government statements made in court, Slattery is a member of The Rathkeale Rovers (also known as the “Irish Travelers”), which are tight-knit extended family groups that live a nomadic lifestyle. The group leverages the rising price for rhinoceros horns in the black market to be used for traditional medicines and carving. According to information made public by Europol, the Rathkeale Rovers have been involved in an epidemic of raids on museums in Europe in which rhinoceros horns have been stolen.

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.