By ROBERT TAUB

Two store owners, a salesperson, and an antique business were indicted on two counts for selling and distributing elephant ivory, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr. announced in a press conference at The Manhattan Family Justice Center Thursday morning.

Irving Morano, 46, Samuel Morano, 48, Victor Zilberman, 62, and the Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques Inc. were all charged felonies in Manhattan Supreme Court. Prosecutors found that all the illegal items estimated a total price of more than $4.5 million, the largest seizure of illegal elephant ivory in the state’s history, Vance said.

The Morano brothers have been in the business of selling elephant ivory articles and carvings since at least 2007, court documents said. Under the New York State Environmental Law, it is illegal to sell, or offer for sale, elephant ivory unless the seller has been granted a license from the Department of Environmental Conservation. That law was enacted with new restrictions in 2014.

“I’m outraged,” Vance Jr. said standing before a table full of illegal ivory products. “I can’t believe in our city that we have stores that are profiting from ivory.”

The elephant population has been steadily declining 30 percent in recent years, down to just 350,000 now. Experts say. Vance Jr. added that from 2010 to 2012, 100,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa to fuel the illegal ivory trade. The illegal trade of wildlife is worth an estimated $7 billion dollars to $23 billion annually, according to a report done by Interpol and the United Nations.

New York has remained one of the world markets for elephant ivory, according to Vance. “I think we need to send a message that those who commit wildlife crime not in their jurisdiction need to know that there will be no market for them in New York City,” he said.

“The people that are poaching elephants for ivory are not trying to make ends meet,” said Basil Seggos, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “They are not simple individuals, not trying to make a quick buck; these are criminal syndicates who deploy very sophisticated armies out in the field using automatic weapons, chainsaws, and other devices who are doing battle with government forces.”

John Calvelli, the Vice President for Public Affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society commended those people who are working to have a 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.”

Photo by Robert Taub