BEVERLY HILLS—A Beverly Hills auctioneer who briefly starred in a 2012 reality show, has been charged with the conspiracy to smuggle 15 rhinoceros horns valued at more than $2 million, prosecutors indicated on Wednesday, February 22.

Jacob Chait, 34, is the head of accusations at I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers and the youngest son of founder Isadore Chait. He appeared in court on February 21 in Manhattan, New York to face the charges in violation of the Lacey Act, a 1900 law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife, and was indicted on Wednesday.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, Jacob Chait trafficked in and smuggled rhinoceros horns, further threatening an already endangered species. Rhinoceros have no known predators other than humans, and yet, driven by the illegal trade in their horns, literally worth more than their weight in gold in the black market, rhinoceros are on their way to extinction. This Office, along with our partners at the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will continue to combat the illegal trade of rhinoceros horns fueling the senseless poaching of this critically endangered animal.

From approximately 2009 to 2012, Chait and his co-conspirators purchased rhinoceros horns and taxidermy mounts in the U.S. and sought to sell them to foreign buyers in private deals, including in at least eight separate deals or attempted deals involving 15 rhinoceros horns worth an estimated $2.4 million. Chait has been helping foreign buyers export them without proper paperwork and in one case, he allegedly smuggled two endangered black rhino horns to China in his luggage. Rhino horns are worth more per pound than gold.

Prosecutors indicated that there has been an ongoing nationwide crackdown by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice on illegal trafficking in rhino horns and other wildlife crimes.

Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. The trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory has been restricted since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 180 countries around the world.

Chait, 34, is charged in one count of conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and to violate the Lacey Act. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, before whom Chait will appear on February 27, 2017.

On June 22, 2016, Joey Chait, the Senior Auction Administrator of Auction House #1, was sentenced to one year and one day for conspiring to smuggle wildlife products made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and coral with a market value of at least $1 million, and to violate the Lacey Act.

This matter is part of Operation Crash, a continuing nation-wide crackdown by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns and other wildlife crimes. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. This indictment represents the sixth Operation Crash case to be brought in the Southern District of New York.

“Illegal trafficking like that allegedly conducted by these defendants is fueling the unprecedented slaughter of wild rhinos,” said Jim Kurth, Acting Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“In Africa, a rhino is currently poached every eight hours — a rate that threatens to make the rhino extinct in the wild in less than 15 years. Our special agents will continue to work with the Justice Department to aggressively investigate and secure the prosecutions of individuals and criminal organizations engaged in rhino horn trafficking to protect wild populations of this imperiled species.”

Written By Darylese Shook and Casey Jacobs