BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich said a $700,000 illegal ivory case investigated by federal authorities underscores the role of Massachusetts in the black market for wildlife artifacts.
The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts allege that Guan Zong “Graham” Chen purchased illegal ivory and rhino horns across the United States before sending them abroad with help from a woman who owned a shipping business in Concord.
“The Concord ivory trafficking case is one more in a long list of incidents in which our statutes and protections have needed improvement,” said Ehrlich.
The Democrat who represents Marblehead, Swampscott and a Lynn neighborhood in the Massachusetts House co-sponsored legislation with state Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester aimed at clamping down on ivory and rhino horn trafficking.
“Poaching elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns is pushing both species towards extinction — a brutal, bloody practice often linked to organized crime, and cruel beyond words,” Ehrlich said, adding, “We cannot stand idly by and remain complicit in this.”
She said the legislation is needed to strengthen state-level protections against trafficking and bring them up to par. The bill prohibits the sale, offer for sale, purchase, or possession with intent to sell, of any ivory or rhinoceros horn. It also creates an Ivory and Rhino Horn Trafficking Enforcement Fund within the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to expand educational and enforcement efforts against ivory and rhino horn trafficking.
“The legal ivory market is being used to launder illegal ivory, and the only way we can stop this is to follow the examples of New York, New Jersey, and California, and to put an end to the ivory trade altogether,” Lewis said.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, “while federal laws and regulations prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of ivory items in the U.S., they do not affect the sale or trade within state borders.”
United States Fish and Wildlife Service seizure data shows illegal trafficking activity has occurred in the port of Boston — between 2010 and 2014, ivory totaling a market value ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars was seized or refused at Boston checkpoints.
Ehrlich’s bill currently awaits a hearing in the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Chen is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.