Rhino horn trafficker pleads guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court

November 5, 2013 U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of NY
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Michael Slattery, Jr., a 25-year-old Irish national charged with fraudulently purchasing  a set of black rhinoceros horns in Texas and then traveling to New York to sell the horns for $50,000, pleaded guilty on Tuesday.

According to the complaint filed 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.

Rhinoceroses 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.

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All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law, and all black rhinoceros species are endangered. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  

Nevertheless, the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population.  In China, for example, there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carved rhinoceros horn cups. Drinking from such a cup was believed to bring good health, and such carvings are highly prized by collectors.

“The illicit trafficking in black rhino horns encourages the wholesale destruction of these protected animals,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Loretta Lynch said that the time of Slattery’s arrest. “Slattery showed no regard for the black rhino’s tenuous hold on survival, as he allegedly used a straw buyer and fraudulent documents to convert the protected animal parts into cash.

“The majestic black rhinoceros is protected under the laws of this country and the international community – we stand by our obligations to defend these precious animals,” Lynch concluded.

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