Auction official Pleads Guilty in Connection with $1 Million Wildlife Smuggling Conspiracy

March 9, 2016

Joseph Chait, the senior auction administrator of a Beverly Hills, California, gallery and auction house, pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle wildlife products made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral with a market value of at least approximately $1 million! according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to allegations contained in the Information and statements made in court filings and proceedings:

Chait and his co-conspirators engaged in illegal trafficking of wildlife with a market value of at least $1 million. Chait personally falsified customs forms by stating that rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory items were made of bone, wood or plastic. For example, during Asia Week in New York City in or about March 2011, Chait was approached about the potential sale of a carving of Guanyin, an East Asian spiritual figure made from rhinoceros horn (the Rhino Carving).

Despite knowing that it was not a genuine antique, Chait and his co-conspirators accepted the Rhino Carving for consignment, advertised the sale to foreign clients in China and put the Rhino Carving on the cover of Auction House-1’s catalogue in connection with an auction of Asian art and antiques. After the Rhino Carving sold at auction for $230,000, Chait offered to make a false document for the buyer to help the buyer smuggle the item out of the country. The fake invoice falsely stated that the item cost $108.75 and was made of plastic.

Chait and his co-conspirators also sold ivory carvings to another foreign customer and provided those carvings to that customer’s courier, even after learning that the customer had been arrested in China for smuggling ivory purchased from Chait’s auction house.
In addition to falsifying customs forms by stating that rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory items were made of bone, wood or plastic, Chait and his co-conspirators conspired to aid smuggling in other ways:

Wildlife items were shipped to or picked up by third party shippers, who then re-shipped the items out of the country to foreign buyers without the required declaration or permits.

Members of the conspiracy provided packing materials to foreign wildlife buyers to assist them in hand carrying the wildlife out of the country.

Foreign wildlife buyers where not charged a state sales tax if they showed a foreign passport and itinerary for an international flight as proof the item would be leaving the country which Chait and his co-conspirators knew was insufficient time to obtain an export permit.

Protected wildlife was smuggled into the United States without declaration or permits and then sold at auction.

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