Jacob Chait, a California auctioneer was indicted in New York on federal charges of conspiring to smuggle endangered rhinoceros horns, after he smuggled two endangered black rhino horns to China in his luggage.
"Illegal wildlife trafficking is a serious crime under federal law and should be vigorously prosecuted," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
A federal grand jury in Manhattan returned a one-count indictment on Feb. 15 against Chait who is the head of acquisitions and auctioneer of a Beverley Hills, Calif., gallery and auction house
Chait and his co-conspirators allegedly purchased rhinoceros horns and attempted to sell them to foreign buyers, according to the Justice Department. Eight separate or attempted deals involved 15 rhinoceros horns that were worth an estimated $2.4 million.
"Illegal trafficking like that allegedly conducted by these defendants is fueling the unprecedented slaughter of wild rhinos," said Jim Kurth, acting director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"In Africa, a rhino is currently poached every eight hours -- a rate that threatens to make the rhino extinct in the wild in less than 15 years. Our special agents will continue to work with the Justice Department to aggressively investigate and secure the prosecutions of individuals and criminal organizations engaged in rhino horn trafficking to protect wild populations of this imperiled species." Kurth added
Rhinoceros horns are worth more per pound than gold because of their scarcity and high demand in Asia.
Chait actions violate the Lacey Act, a 1900 U.S. law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife, and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Chait is scheduled to appear Monday before U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman.
The defendant is the younger brother of Joey Chait. On June 22, 2016, Chait, the senior auction administrator at I.M. Chait Gallery, was sentenced one year and one day for conspiring to smuggle wildlife products made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral with a market value of at least $1 million.