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08/02/2012

Antiques dealer pleads guilty to illegal trafficking of endangered rhinoceros horns

NEWARK, N.J. – An antiques dealer pleaded guilty Tuesday to obstruction of justice and creating false records, in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking. The guilty plea comes as a result of an investigation which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) among the investigating agencies.

David Hausman, 67, of New York City, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and one count of creating a false record in violation of the Lacey Act. Hausman was arrested in February 2012 as part of "Operation Crash." Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in coordination with HSI and other federal and local law enforcement agencies. A "crash" is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

In the plea agreement, Hausman admitted that he committed these wildlife offenses while holding himself out to FWS as an antiques expert who purportedly wanted to help FWS investigate rhinoceros horn trafficking; in reality, he was covertly engaging in illegal activity himself.

According to court documents, in December 2010, Hausman – while purporting to help the government crackdown on illegal rhinoceros trading – advised agents that the taxidermied head of a Black Rhinoceros containing two horns had been illegally sold by a Pennsylvania auction house. However, in March 2011, upon learning that the sale was not finalized, Hausman covertly purchased the rhinoceros mount himself, using a "straw buyer" to conceal that he was the true purchaser, because federal law prohibits interstate trafficking in endangered species. Hausman instructed the straw buyer not to communicate with him about the matter by e-mail to avoid creating a paper trail that could be followed by law enforcement. After the purchase was consummated, Hausman directed the straw buyer to remove the horns and mail them to him. Hausman then made a realistic set of fake horns using synthetic materials and directed the straw buyer to attach them on the rhinoceros head in order to deceive law enforcement in the event that they conducted an investigation. After his arrest in February 2012, Hausman contacted the straw buyer and they agreed that the rhinoceros mount should be burned or concealed.

In a second incident, in September 2011, Hausman responded to an Internet offer to sell a different taxidermied head of a Black Rhinoceros containing two horns. Unknown to Hausman, the online seller was an undercover federal agent. Before purchasing the horns November 15, 2011, Hausman directed the undercover agent to send him an e-mail falsely stating that the mounted rhinoceros was over 100 years old, even though the agent had told Hausman that the rhinoceros mount was only 20 to 30 years old. There is an antique exception for certain trade in rhinoceros horns that are over 100 years old. By creating the false record as to the age of the horns, Hausman sought to conceal his illegal conduct. Hausman also insisted on a cash transaction and told the undercover agent not to send additional e-mails so there would be no written record. After buying the Black Rhinoceros mount at a truck stop in Princeton, Ill., agents followed Hausman and observed him sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot.

In February 2012, at the time of his arrest, agents seized four rhinoceros heads from Hausman's apartment as well as six Black Rhinoceros horns – two of which were the very horns he was seen sawing off in the parking lot – numerous carved and partially carved rhinoceros horns, fake rhinoceros horns, and $28,000 in cash.

Hausman faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for these offenses.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.