International Ivory Bust - Pool Cues

Thursday, November 4, 2010
WASHINGTON, DC
An international sting operation conducted by U.S. officials and the United Kingdom’s Scotland Yard resulted in a Florida man pleading guilty yesterday to violating the Endangered Species Act. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org) applauds this international initiative to bring to justice those who profit from illegal ivory trade whilst elephants are threatened with being wiped out in parts of Africa by poachers.

“Elephants are in crisis as both the legal and illegal ivory trade continue to flourish,” said Jeff Flocken, Director of IFAW’s Washington Office. “Most people are amazed to learn that the USA is still one of the world’s largest buyers of elephant ivory. The USA has the power to save endangered elephants simply by banning ivory imports and trade.”

Joseph Barringer, 55, the owner of a Florida pool cue company, pleaded guilty in federal court in Orlando to violating the Endangered Species Act in connection with the illegal export of African elephant ivory through an online auction site. The company manufactured custom pool cues and parts, including parts made from elephant ivory. Although his company’s Web page stated that he did not sell oversees because it was illegal, he sold ivory laden pool cues to an undercover police officer of the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) who was working in coordination with special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We need to send a strong message that profiting from endangered species will not be tolerated,” continued Flocken. “We are looking for the maximum possible penalty to be enforced.”

The maximum penalty carries a sentence of one year of imprisonment, one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $100,000, or twice the gross gain accruing from the crime. 

Federal agents seized 197 pounds of elephant ivory and cut ivory pieces, according to documents filed in court, including 24 elephant tusk tips. Agents also seized more than 1,800 Cuban cigars.

 According to papers filed in court, Barringer sent an email in November 2007 to his customers, including the foreign undercover police officer stating: “We’re loaded up and I do mean loaded up with beautiful Elephant ivory right now. We have 6 pairs of tusks sitting here (actually in storage). We’ve been buying and hoarding it because we don’t know when or where the next ones will come from. And for some reason, we’ve been fortunate in buying a lot of tusks this past year. I think we are to the point where we can now safely sell in some quantity.”

The African elephant is listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and is also protected by the CITES, an international treaty regulating trade on endangered species to which the United States is a party. The global demand for elephant ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand remain high, thus causing continued elephant poaching and illegal ivory finding its way into international and domestic markets.

The Barringer investigation was conducted by special agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with assistance from London Metropolitan Police in London.

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