Beverly Hills auction executive indicted for rhino horn sales

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 16, 2017 12:52 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An executive at a Beverly Hills gallery and auction house who briefly starred in a reality TV show has been charged with conspiring to facilitate the sale and exportation of 15 rhinoceros horns worth $2.4 million.

Jacob Chait, the youngest son of the founder of I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers, was charged in an indictment unsealed on Wednesday in Manhattan federal court with a single conspiracy count in connection with the wildlife trafficking scheme.

His indictment came after his older brother, Joseph Chait, was sentenced in June 2016 to one year in prison for conspiring to smuggle at least $1 million in animal products that included rhino horn and elephant ivory.

A lawyer for Jacob Chait, 34, could not immediately be identified.

The case comes as conservationists and law enforcement officials in the United States and globally have been trying to crack down on the illegal trade in products from the two threatened species.

U.S. authorities say rhino horn-made libation cups are particularly in demand in Asia, resulting in a thriving black market. Most species of rhinoceros are extinct or on the brink of extinction as a result, prosecutors said.

Chait, of Los Angeles, served as the head of acquisitions at I.M. Chait, which was founded by his father, Isadore Chait. He was featured in a 2012 Discovery Channel reality television show focused on memorabilia sellers called "Final Offer."

According to the indictment, from 2008 to 2012, Chait and others acquired and traded rhino horns that they sold to foreign customers and helped the buyers export them without proper paperwork and by hiding them in luggage.

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The indictment said the scheme involved 15 horns worth $2.4 million, some of which were smuggled out of the country in connection with sales to buyers in China.

The case is not the first to involve the I.M. Chait auction house.

Actor Nicholas Cage in 2015 agreed to turn over a rare stolen dinosaur skull he bought from I.M. Chait after U.S. authorities filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking to take possession of the item so it could be repatriated to Mongolia.

Neither Cage nor the gallery was accused of wrongdoing in the affair.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)