BY NATHAN DUKE
A Long Island City gallery owner and a salesman have been charged with illegally selling a ballerina sculpture made with elephant ivory to state undercover investigators last month for more than $2,500, the Queens district attorney said.
Ro Gallery owner Robert Rogal, 70, who lives on East 74th Street in Manhattan, and salesman Jaime Villamarin, 45, of Brooklyn, were arraigned on July 7 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Toni Cimino on two violations of the state’s Economic Conservation Law. The defendants, who could face up to four years in prison if convicted, were released on their own recognizance and ordered to return to court on Aug. 29.
Basil Seggos, the commissioner for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said that elephants are listed as an endangered species, and the sale of more than $1,500 worth of products made from ivory without having first obtained a DEC license or permit is a felony.
“Aggressively cracking down on the illegal market for ivory will help bring an end to the slaughtering of elephants and send a clear message that we will not allow this trade to continue in New York,” Seggos said.
In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that banned the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns and strengthened penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions are endangering the elephant populations worldwide. The law allowed for limited exceptions.
According to the criminal charges, two DEC investigators working undercover visited the appointment-only Ro Gallery, located at 47-15 36th St. in Long Island City, and met with Villamarin, who allegedly showed them two ballerina sculptures that were made with ivory. The defendant allegedly told the investigators that, “These are ivory, but we don’t list them as such because you can’t sell ivory.”
On June 14, the investigators returned to the gallery and met with Rogal, whom they allegedly paid $2,612 for a ballerina sculpture. A court-authorized search warrant was executed at the gallery on July 6 and law enforcement officers allegedly recovered several sculptures made of ivory.