Guilty plea in illegal ivory sales case in NYC

New York — A corporation that owns a Manhattan art and antique store has entered a guilty plea to illegally selling elephant ivory, DEC officials announced last month.

The case marks New York’s first Class D felony conviction since new ivory legislation was instituted in 2014.

The corporation that owns Landmark Gallery – 128 West 58th St. LLC., co-owned by brothers Behrooz Torkian and Hersel Torkian – was charged with two felony counts related to the illegal sale of elephant ivory; one count of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class D felony; and one count of Illegal Commercialization of Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and Wildlife, a class E felony.

Landmark pleaded guilty to the more serious D felony, admitting to violating New York state’s more restrictive ivory ban by illegally selling elephant ivory in excess of $25,000.

Upon entering the plea, the corporation was ordered to forfeit 47 seized ivory items with an estimated value of more than $250,000; pay the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance $150,000 for New York State/New York City sales tax owed for the period of March 1, 2010 to May 31, 2015; and donate $50,000 to the conservation organization Wildlife Tomorrow Fund for use in the organization’s projects involving elephant population protection, anti-poaching efforts, and land conservation.

“Restricting the market for ivory trade will help bring an end to the slaughtering of elephants and sends a clear message that we will not allow this immoral and criminal activity to continue in New York,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “The illegal ivory trade is an international issue and our state remains vigilant in its pursuit of this industry that is killing elephants at a rate of 96 animals per day. I applaud the work of our environmental conservation officers, our state and federal partners and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office who advanced this case, and urge other states and nations to join us in working to protect this endangered species for generations to come.”

The case began in April 2015, when DEC officers received a tip that Landmark Gallery in Midtown Manhattan was selling hand-carved ivory pieces. An investigation revealed that Landmark was advertising the pieces as carved mammoth tusks.

Changes to New York state’s ivory law in 2014 made mammoth ivory illegal to sell without a permit. However, dealers were given a two-year “sell by” period for liquidating existing stock before enforcement would take effect.

That created a loophole that Landmark Gallery attempted to exploit, officials said.

ECOs from the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit purchased several pieces in the store and brought the items to the American Museum of Natural History for morphological analysis. Experts at the museum determined that the pieces were carved from elephant ivory.

On June 10, 2015, ECOs were joined by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents and New York State Taxation and Finance investigators in executing a search warrant at Landmark Gallery’s retail offices, which resulted in the seizure of 47 different elephant ivory articles valued at more than $250,000.

“This case exemplifies our strong partnership with New York and the DEC and our commitment to working together to hold accountable those who profit from the illegal sale of wildlife,” said Honora Gordon, Northeast Region Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Landmark was also ordered to pay $2,000 to DEC in restitution for state funds used in the case.

This case was investigated by DEC’s BECI officers Lt. Jesse Paluch, Lt. Liza Bobseine, and investigator Eric Dowling and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Adam Maltz of the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

The comprehensive ivory legislation, signed by Gov. Cuomo in 2014, strengthened criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions endanger elephant populations worldwide.

Due to the continued demand for illegal wildlife products like ivory, poachers are slaughtering elephants and selling ivory for large profit. As a result of this illegal activity, some species of elephants and rhinos are threatened with extinction.

New York is believed to be the largest market for ivory in the United States.

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