A federal judge sentenced a Miami art dealer Monday to 51 months in prison for illegally smuggling sculptures made of ivory in and out of the United States, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.
Eduardo Ulises Martinez was found guilty on nine counts of smuggling without declaring to the US FIsh and Wildlife Service, as well as one count of obstruction of justice. The federal district court also ordered Martinez to pay a $20,000 fine, serve three years of supervised release following his prison term, and ordered the seizure of various sculptures containing ivory through a criminal forfeiture order.
Martinez purchased numerous sculptures containing ivory from auction hours in Spain, England, Canada and Australia, the US Attorney’s Office said. Martinez imported the sculptures into the US and avoided detection from law enforcement by dismantling the items and shipping the components in separate boxes to addresses not associated with his business or his home.
“On other occasions, Martinez used third parties located in Spain and England to collect or receive the sculptures from auctions houses in Europe, creating the appearance that the sculptures would stay within the European Union, and thereafter directed the third parties to ship the ivory-containing sculptures to the United States, ” the press release said.
Ivory is a hard, white material that comes from the tusk and teeth of animals, including elephants, walruses, hippopotamuses, warthogs, narwals, and whales. At least 20,000 African elephants are illegally killed for their tusks each year, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A resurgence in demand for ivory from elephant tusks among Asian countries has fueled a poaching epidemic in Africa.
In 2016, the US implemented a near-total ban on elephant ivory trade. But, according to the US Attorney’s office, Martinez was stopped at the Miami International Airport on September 8, 2021, with ivory in his luggage. He then removed illegally imported ivory sculptures from his showroom and obstructed an investigation by law enforcement by approaching a witness and asking them to provide false evidence and testimony.
“In every instance, Martinez, or others at Martinez’s direction, would fraudulently and falsely declare the contents of the shipping paperwork as bronze and marble, porcelain, bronze, or other false descriptions of the contents to evade inspection and declaration requirements.”
Last November, Martinez even tried to argue in court that “items that are one hundred years of age or older” and “items containing minimal amounts of ivory are exempt from prohibition.” His motion was denied.
A judge called the motion misguided, stating, “It is not for Defendant to decide whether goods he imports and exports qualify as exceptions. Indeed, if any individual could decide for themselves that items they wished to import into and export out of the United States are exempt from prohibition, the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (“CITES”) would be rendered useless.”