Investigators seized more than $4.5 million worth of illegal elephant ivory from a midtown antiques store, indicting the owners and a salesman on Thursday, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
The seizure marks the largest of its kind in the state, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation records.
“The conduct alleged in this case is abhorrent,” District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. “As the international elephant population hovers near extinction, too many ivory traders continue to profit from the slaughter of these beautiful, defenseless animals.”
Prosecutors allege that brothers Irving Morano, 46, and Samuel Morano, 48, who co-owned Metropolitan Fine Arts and Antiques on West 57th Street, have been selling elephant ivory since 2007.
They had previously held a license to sell the elephant ivory, but restrictions enacted in 2014 made it nearly impossible for them to renew that license. It allegedly didn’t stop them, however, and they were caught when DEC officers first went undercover at the shop in November 2015, paying $2,000 for an ivory carving, which salesman Victor Zilberman, 62, allegedly claimed was mammoth ivory.
An analysis of the carving showed it was in fact elephant ivory, according to the DA’s office.
Investigators then discovered about 126 different pieces of elephant ivory when they executed a search warrant, including two pairs of uncarved tusks.
The smaller of the two — about 5 feet long — belonged to an African elephant who was likely a young adult when it died, according to the DEC. The second pair was about 7 feet in length. Each could fetch up to $200,000, according to the DA’s office.
The Morano brothers, Zilberman and the store were each charged with two counts each of illegal commercialization of wildlife. They were released without bail and are expected back in court on Oct. 6.
An attorney for the Morano brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
David Smith, an attorney for Zilberman, said “my client denies these allegations and we intend to vigorously fight them in court.”
New York is one of the largest markets for ivory in the U.S., according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The seized ivory is expected to be destroyed as part of the DEC’s Ivory Crush on World Elephant Day in August 2017.