The Battle Against Ivory Trafficking Continues in The Midwest
Thanks to some scrutiny of online auction sites and on the ground package inspections, an ivory trafficker and self-proclaimed 20-year antiques dealer from Ohio has been put out of business. Together, our federal wildlife inspectors and special agents connected the dots to stop a long-running operation that channeled illegal ivory sales through an online auction and shopping website.
Even though African elephants have been protected internationally for decades, more than 30,000 elephants are poached annually for the illegal ivory trade. In 25 years of enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has seized more than six tons of illegal ivory. That tonnage is built upon cases, large and small over the years. This latest case stems from a two-year investigation that began when Chicago-based wildlife inspectors discovered a series of illegal shipments destined for China, all mislabeled and without the required permits.
The investigation, and following court proceedings, culminated in Mark St. John, 53, of Northwood, Ohio paying an $8,000 fine, forfeiting an ivory collection valued at up to $250,000 and being ordered to complete two years of community service for violating the Lacey Act.
“Elephant ivory trafficking is devastating Africa's elephant populations. Illegal exports from the U.S. only fuel the demand and further imperil elephants,” said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Jackson.
The investigation revealed that St. John was a frequent international importer and exporter of elephant ivory and other animal products; however, there was no record of him acquiring the appropriate license, permits or paying the appropriate inspection or other fees for the lawful dealings of these items.
During the investigation, wildlife inspectors intercepted four illegal exports. In all instances, St. John completed the international shipping documents and U.S. Postal Service and Dispatch Notice, Form 2976-A that falsely listed both the value and the contents of the contraband in the packages. In addition to falsifying shipping documents, and failing to obtain related licenses and permits, St. John knowingly misrepresented what he was selling online.
One such violation was documented on May 4, 2011, when St. John claimed to be shipping a wooden handicraft child’s toy valued of $45. The shipment was intercepted by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspector in Chicago who discovered that the shipment contained an elephant ivory carving. St. John had earlier sold this ivory carving online to a Chinese purchaser and described the carving as “EXC 19C Chinese Ox Bone Stick and Ball game bilboquette.” Ox Bone is commonly used and understood to mean elephant ivory in such online auctions. The item sold for $635.
On June 13, 2011, wildlife inspectors intercepted another illegal shipment from St. John. His international shipping documents claimed that the package contained two antique wooden handicraft desk ornaments and two wooden antique stands valued at $300. The package actually contained two Hippopotamus tusks, a species protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES regulates the international commercial and noncommercial movement of both African and Asian elephants, including their ivory and ivory products. The African elephant was first listed by Ghana in CITES Appendix III in 1976. Hippopotamus were first listed in CITES Appendix II in 1995.
On July 27, 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement officers executed a federal search warrant in Wood County, Ohio at St. John’s residence. Several elephant ivory carvings, sea turtle products and mother of pearl carvings were seized and were valued at up to $250,000.
On April 24, 2013, St. John pled guilty to one count of violating the Lacey Act, where he admitted to knowingly making a false record, account or label for, or any false identification of, any covered fish, wildlife or plant which has been, or is intended to be imported or exported. As per the terms of the plea agreement, St. John signed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Abandonment form, abandoning a majority of his previously seized wildlife products.
On August 20, 2013, St. John was sentenced to probation for two years and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, as directed by the Probation Officer. St. John also was fined $8,000 through the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.
Learn more about African elephant conservation: http://www.fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/african-elephant-conservation-fund.html
Learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ivory crush: http://www.fws.gov/le/elephant-ivory-crush.html
By Tina Shaw