State Drops Net On Illegal Animal Artifacts Dealer

Attorney General Spitzer and State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill today announced the culmination of a successful effort to stop a Manhattan store from selling illegal artifacts made from the skins, hides and body parts of endangered and threatened animal species.

Claude Creary, 67, the owner of Nyabinghi African Shop, pled guilty to two felony counts of Illegal Commercialization of Wildlife. He was arrested in May and sentenced September 28 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to a three-year conditioned discharge, paid a $5,000 fine and forfeited dozens of illegal items seized from his store at 111 Chambers St.

"It is unconscionable for anyone to profit from the killing of endangered and threatened species that authorities around the world are struggling to protect" said Spitzer. "My office will vigorously prosecute those who seek to enrich themselves by circumventing laws designed to safeguard imperiled wildlife both at home and abroad. I commend the work of the DEC in this matter and pledge to continue working with the agency to drive this shameful trade out of New York State."

Commissioner Cahill said: "Endangered and threatened wildlife are among the most precious of all natural resources and their illegal importation and exploitation will not be tolerated in New York State. I commend the investigators and officers who worked on this case and I look forward to continuing to work with the Attorney General to prosecute those who would harm natural treasures. This case sends a clear message to all those who would profit from the illegal sale or trade of such items - - Not in New York."Under State Environmental Conservation law, it is illegal to import or sell items made from the skin, hide or other body parts of endangered or threatened species.

On several occasions during the spring of 1998, Creary sold products and artifacts made from endangered and threatened species to a DEC undercover investigator. On May 8, 1998, Creary sold a leopard pelt to the investigator in the presence of an undercover agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Following the sale, officials for the DEC, Attorney General's office and the Fish and Wildlife Service returned to Nyabinghi African Shop armed with a search warrant.

During the raid, investigators seized dozens of illegal items worth over $100,000, including four full leopard skins with heads attached, a full jaguar skin with head attached, an elephant foot stool with a zebra skin seat, elephant tail whips, pocketbooks and handbags made from the skins of West African dwarf crocodiles, and an ashtray made from the head of a Nile crocodile.

International wildlife conservation organizations praised the state's action against Nyabinghi African Shop.

"The illegal trade in endangered species is one of the major forces driving tigers, rhinos and many other animals to the brink of extinction," said Craig Hoover, senior program officer for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade program of the World Wildlife Fund. "Globally, it is a multi-billion dollar business, with much of the trade ending up in major American cities like Los Angeles and New York. Regulation and strict enforcement are the best deterrents, but more states need to follow the lead of New York, which is one of the few states making a serious effort to address the problem."

After completing its investigation, DEC referred the Nyabinghi African Shop case to the Attorney General's office for prosecution.

The matter was handled by DEC Investigator John Fitzpatrick, and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Hugh McLean of the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Unit.