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DEC’S Investigation into Illegal Elephant Ivory Trade

Manhattan-based jewelry wholesaler Stonex Corp. pled guilty this week to one count of felony-level Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The company owner, Shashikumar Krishnaswamy, pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor-level Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife. As part of the plea settlement, Krishnaswamy will forfeit more than 70 pounds of ivory pieces that were seized from him, an estimated retail value of more than $30,000. In addition, he and the corporation will donate $10,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society for use in elephant conservation programs worldwide.

“As this case and others show, New York City is still a major market in the country for the illegal wildlife trade,” said DEC Commissioner Martens. “New York has zero tolerance for those who would profit from the sale of endangered and threatened species. Many species around the world are teetering on the brink of extinction due to poaching to supply the illegal wildlife trade, especially elephants. DEC is committed to stopping the illegal ivory trade in New York. I would like to thank our partners on this joint investigation; the Office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Two other Diamond District-based companies, Raja Jewels, Inc. and New York Jewelry Mart Corp., pled guilty last year for their roles in the illegal sale of elephant ivory. The Raja Jewels case resulted in the largest seizure of elephant ivory for a state case in New York’s history. Together, the amount of ivory seized from the three Diamond District businesses amounted to nearly a ton, with an estimated retail value of more than $2 million.

Under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, it is illegal for anyone to sell or possess with intent to sell any articles made from endangered or threatened species of wildlife, such as the elephant, unless the seller has been granted a license to do so from DEC. Only then, licensees may sell articles, such as ivory, if they possessed the items prior to the species being listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). All elephants are protected as either endangered or threatened species, and the sale of any articles made from an elephant is prohibited without a license from the DEC.

In 1976, the Asian elephant was listed as an endangered species under the ESA, and in 1978, the African elephant was listed. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their tusks to supply the illegal ivory trade. Rates of poaching in many areas are the worst that they have been since the international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989.

This case was investigated by Lt. John Fitzpatrick DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation, with assistance from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents Paul Chapelle and Kathryn McCabe, as well as DEC Officers Eric Dowling and Nathan Favreau. The case was prosecuted by ADA Julieta Lozano of the Manhattan DA’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau.

To report the illegal sale of endangered wildlife, contact the New York State Environmental Conservation Police at 1-877-457-5680 or 1-800-TIPP-DEC.