Miami art dealer sentenced to more than four years in prison for smuggling ivory sculptures

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A Miami art dealer was sentenced to more than four years in prison for illegally smuggling sculptures containing ivory both within and outside of the United States and for obstructing authorities’ investigation.

A jury this week found Eduardo Ulises Martinez guilty on nine counts of smuggling items containing ivory in and out of the US without declaring it or providing it for inspection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Martinez was also convicted on a count of obstruction of justice for soliciting false evidence, documents and witness testimony during the investigation, according to the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.

According to the Justice Department, Martinez purchased sculptures containing ivory from auction houses in Spain, England, Canada and Australia and concealed the material in order to bring it to the US. Martinez used various methods to smuggle the ivory, investigators found, including dismantling the sculptures and shipping the ivory components separately to evade detection. He also arranged for third parties living in Spain and England to collect the sculptures from European auction houses to give the impression the works would stay within the European Union, before having the ivory shipped to the US. In each instance, Martinez or someone working for him would falsely declare that the ivory sculptures were made of another material or give false descriptions to evade inspection. (Martinez had never made a declaration of wildlife, including ivory, to the USFWS, according to the Justice Department.)

Martinez sold the sculptures containing ivory “at a significant mark up” in the US, according to the Justice Department, but also sold to buyers in other countries and facilitated the transportation of ivory out of the country. The jury heard evidence that Martinez knew he was breaking the law but continued in order to make money, according to the Justice Department.

Martinez was caught with ivory in his luggage at Miami International Airport in September 2021. The Justice Department said he later removed imported ivory from his showroom and asked a witness to provide false evidence and testimony to investigators.

Along with the 51-month prison sentence, Martinez was ordered by a federal judge to pay a $20,000 fine and must serve three years of supervised release after leaving prison. He forfeited “various sculptures containing ivory”, the Justice Department added.

In 2016, the US government introduced a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory, with exceptions only if they were sold as antiques. The USFWS said at the time nearly 100 elephants were killed each day to support the estimated $23bn global ivory industry.

Some jurisdictions within the US have even tougher restrictions, like New York, where a state-wide mandate bans both the sale and display of objects containing more than 20% elephant and mammoth ivory or are less than 100 years old.

Last year a New York appeals court reviewed the state’s tough ivory regulations after two groups of antiquities dealers filed a lawsuit claiming the law sets up unconstitutional restrictions for dealers and collectors.

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