Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

District Attorney, New York County

For Immediate Release
September 22, 2016

DA VANCE AND DEC COMMISSIONER SEGGOS ANNOUNCE LARGEST SEIZURE OF ILLEGAL ELEPHANT IVORY IN NEW YORK STATE HISTORY

Store Owners, Salesperson, and Company Indicted

Seized Items Priced at More than $4.5 Million, Containing Ivory from More than a Dozen Slaughtered Elephants

Watch the Press Conference

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) Commissioner Basil Seggos, and Wildlife Conservation Society (“WCS”) Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli, today announced the indictment of an antiques store, its owners and a salesperson for selling and offering for sale illegal elephant ivory at a total price of more than $4.5 million. IRVING MORANO, 46, SAMUEL MORANO, 48, VICTOR ZILBERMAN, 62, and METROPOLITAN FINE ARTS & ANTIQUES INC. are charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with two counts of Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife.[1]

“The conduct alleged in this case is abhorrent,” said District Attorney Vance. “As the international elephant population hovers near extinction, too many ivory traders continue to profit from the slaughter of these beautiful, defenseless animals. My Office and our DEC partners will do everything we can locally to protect this endangered species and end this moral, ecological and geopolitical crisis. In Manhattan, that means advocating for tougher laws, and aggressively prosecuting those who violate them. I thank our partners at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society for their work on these investigations and their efforts to stop poaching and shut down the illegal ivory market in New York and across the world.” 

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said: “Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership in sponsoring legislation to ban the sale of Ivory and then signing it into law, we are continuing to take aggressive action to crack down on illegal ivory in New York State. The worldwide elephant population is hanging in the balance. With today’s action, we are sending a strong message to poachers, traffickers, and dealers that we are committed to stopping this heinous activity.  I commend our Environmental Conservation officers, District Attorney Vance and the Wildlife Conservation Society for working to bring these lawbreakers to justice.”

John Calvelli, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Director of the 96 Elephants Campaign, said: “At the Wildlife Conservation Society, we commend the teams of District Attorney Cyrus R Vance, Jr., and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos for working together to show that New York State has zero tolerance for illegal elephant ivory sales. New York State was one of the first states to ban ivory sales and it is clear our officials are serious about enforcing this law which is designed to ensure Africa’s elephants do not go extinct. And in fact, the United States has also put into law a domestic ivory ban. This announcement comes following a recent decision by members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, who called for domestic elephant ivory bans across the world and comes as nations have gathered at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora where they are considering calling for a similar ban. New York is a leader in the fight to save elephants. We are honored to stand with our friends in government to tell the world that ivory belongs on elephants. New York and the United States have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to killing these amazing creatures.” 

The illegal trade of wildlife is worth an estimated $7 billion to $23 billion annually, according to Interpol and the United Nations. Results from the 2016 Great Elephant Census show there are only 352,000 African savanna elephants still living – a decline of 30% over just the last seven years. 

WCS estimates that between 2010 and 2012 alone, 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa to fuel the illegal ivory trade. New York remains one of the largest markets for ivory in the United States. 

According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, METROPOLITAN FINE ARTS & ANTIQUES (“MFAA”) is an art and antiques gallery, owned by brothers IRVING MORANO and SAMUEL MORANO, operating at 10 West 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. IRVING and SAMUEL MORANO have been in the business of selling elephant ivory articles and carvings since at least 2007.

Under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, it is illegal to sell, or offer for sale, elephant ivory unless the seller has been granted a license from the DEC. In 2014, with the support of District Attorney Vance, DEC, WCS, and others, Governor Cuomo enacted new restrictions which effectively banned the sale of ivory articles except in very limited circumstances, and strengthened penalties for sellers.[2] Although the defendants had previously held licenses to sell elephant ivory, these statutory changes made it effectively impossible for the defendants to renew their license, and the defendants did not attempt to renew it. Instead, the defendants elected to continue selling elephant ivory without a license.

On November 30, 2015, undercover officers from DEC purchased an elephant ivory carving from VICTOR ZILBERMAN, an MFAA salesman. ZILBERMAN claimed the item was mammoth ivory, and the officers paid $2,000 directly to IRVING MORANO. After the sale, DEC analyzed the item and identified it as a carving made from elephant ivory and not mammoth ivory.

A search warrant executed at MFAA uncovered approximately 126 elephant ivory articles, including two pairs of uncarved elephant tusks – standing approximately seven and five feet tall. DEC determined that the smaller pair of tusks were from an African savannah elephant, and that the elephant was a young adult when it died. The retail prices listed for the tusks were $200,000 and $150,000. The total of the listed sales prices for the ivory articles seized from MFAA exceeds $4.5 million. According to records maintained by DEC, this is the largest seizure of illegal elephant ivory in the history of New York State.

The items are expected to be destroyed as part of DEC’s Ivory Crush on World Elephant Day in August 2017.

Assistant District Attorney Adam Maltz is handling the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Michael Ohm, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Assistant District Attorney Judy Salwen, Principal Deputy Bureau Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Assistant District Attorney Jodie Kane, Chief of the Rackets Bureau; and Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Sachs, Chief of the Investigation Division. Assistant District Attorney Julieta Lozano, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau; Paralegal Jessica Lempit; Rackets Investigator Peter Tran; Supervisory Rackets Investigator Max Adler, Assistant Chief Rackets Investigator Michael Wigdor, and Chief Investigator Walter Alexander also assisted with the investigation.

District Attorney Vance thanked Dr. George Amato and DEC, specifically, Major Scott Florence, Captain Francisco Lopez, Lieutenant Jesse Paluch, Wildlife Biologist II and Unit Leader for the Special Licenses Unit Joseph Therrien, Lieutenant Liza Bobseine, and Investigators Eric Dowling and Jeff Conway. 

DEC reminds New Yorkers to report any environmental crime by calling DEC’s toll-free, 24-hour police dispatch at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).

[1] The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.

[2] Under these stricter rules, a license to sell ivory would only be granted when: the ivory is part of an antique that is at least 100 years old and the ivory is less than 20% by volume of that antique; will be used for scientific or educational purposes; is sold as part of a trust or an estate; or is part of a musical instrument manufactured before 1975. Like elephant ivory, the sale of mammoth ivory is illegal under New York law. However, the ban on mammoth ivory was not enforced until June 2016.

 

Defendant Information:

IRVING MORANO, D.O.B. 5/3/1970
Brooklyn, NY

  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class D felony, one count
  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class E felony, one count

SAMUEL MORANO, D.O.B. 5/28/1968

Brooklyn, NY

  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class D felony, one count
  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class E felony, one count

VICTOR ZILBERMAN, D.O.B. 1/11/1954
Brooklyn, NY

  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class D felony, one count
  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class E felony, one count

METROPOLITAN FINE ARTS & ANTIQUES INC.
New York, NY

  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class D felony, one count
  • Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife, a class E felony, one count