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Undercover agents nab Midtown antique dealers in historic $4.5M ivory bust

"We're investigating all the way up the supply chain," D.A. Cy Vance told Metro.

Elephant tusks standing five- and seven-feet tall flanked District Attorney Cy Vance on Thursday as he announced charges in the largest bustof illegal ivory in state history.

Police recovered $4.5 million of ivory from the Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques store on West 57th Street after undercover investigators made successful purchases.

It’s owners, brothers Irving and Samuel Morano and their salesman Victor Zilberman, had told the undercover cops that they were buying ancient wooly mammoth tusks (which are also illegal).However, a state Department of Environmental Conservation analysis determined the items are ivory taken from recently killed elephants. A search warrant then led to the confiscation of over 126 pieces of ivory taken from more than a dozen endangered African elephants.

The three dealers now face two felony charges each for illegal commercialization of wildlife, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison for every count. They were arraigned Thursdayand are due back in court on October 6.


The DEC and advocates estimate there are only about 352,000 African elephants left. Nearly 100,000 elephants were poached in Africa between 2012 and 2014, advocates said.

Not only does ivory dealing promote poaching of endangered elephants, but it also funds organized crime and terror groups that destabilize nations in Africa, John Calvelli, executive vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society and director of the 96 Elephants campaign told Metro.

One of those groups is Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army responsible for human trafficking and genocide in Uganda.

“The thing most troubling is that people are purchasing these pieces of ivory and they are helping to fund instability and war,” Calvelli said.

“It’s a multi-trillion dollar worldwide industry and New York is one of the biggest hubs,” Vance said, adding that the illegal ivory trade is also prevalent in Los Angeles and Hawaii.

Vance told Metro that they are investigating how the store acquired the ivory, allegedly since 2007. “We’re investigating all the way up the supply chain,” he said.

In 2014, legislators including Gov. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton put greater restrictions and deeper sentences on ivory trade. Family heirlooms aside, in the state of New York it is illegal to sell or buy any ivory that is less than 100 years old and that comprises more than 20 percent of an item’s total weight.

Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques would not comment to Metro on the matter.

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