By David Fleshler
A high-end Boynton Beach auction house that sells ancient Chinese jade, antique furniture and fine porcelain has been accused of involvement in a grittier business: Wildlife trafficking.
Federal prosecutors have filed charges against Elite Decorative Arts and its president, Christopher Hayes, accusing them of illegally selling rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks to buyers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada and Belgium.
The horns came from the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered African species whose horns command high prices in Asia for their use in traditional medicine. According to the charging papers filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the auction house sold single rhinoceros horns for as much as $70,000.
Elephant tusks brought much lower prices, with the auction house selling carved tusks for $1,600 and up to buyers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Taiwan, prosecutors said.
Hayes and the company were charged with conspiracy to traffic in protected wildlife. He did not return a phone to his office Tuesday morning.
The investigation involved undercover officers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who posed as buyers.
The charging papers don't say whether the items were genuine antiques, but say, "The escalating value of these items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn, and has helped to foster a thriving black market, which includes modern carvings being sold as antiques."