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  1. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
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  3. 2 Indicted for Selling Illegal Elephant Ivory Following HSI New York Investigation

2 Indicted for Selling Illegal Elephant Ivory Following HSI New York Investigation

Release Date: June 18, 2024

NEW YORK — A joint Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York investigation has resulted in the indictments of Yincheng Wu, Grace Hu and Merces Gallery LLC for illegally selling thousands of dollars’ worth of illegal elephant ivory through online auctions. Wu, Hu and Merces Gallery are each charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with three counts of illegal commercialization of wildlife.

“The defendants are accused of selling ivory and prohibited animal products with willful disregard for state and federal law and, more importantly, the impact their alleged crimes have had on already endangered species. The sale of items containing illicitly acquired ivory has contributed to the near extinction of elephants and is often the result of vicious poaching and illegal importation practices,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “I am proud to stand alongside the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in shining a light on these deplorable acts.”

According to the investigation, between April 2020 and May 2023, Wu and Hu allegedly operated Merces, an online auction business, out of an office in Great Neck. Through Merces, the pair advertised and sold elephant ivory carvings, including carved elephant tusks, evading detection by advertising their products as “rare material” rather than elephant ivory.

Between April and June 2020, Wu and Hu registered Merces with the New York Department of State, created the website MercesGallery.com, and opened a business checking account at JP Morgan Chase Bank as sole signatories. After setting up their business, they began to conduct auctions both on their website and LiveAuctioneers.com.

During these auctions, Merces advertised items that appeared to be made from elephant ivory or rhinoceros horns. To disguise the nature of their products, they listed the items only as “rare material,” mentioning neither ivory nor rhinoceros’ horn in the listings.

Wu and Hu sold ivory products to an undercover police officer on three separate occasions: A set of elephant ivory rosary beads purchased for $4,800; three elephant ivory figurines for $2,640; and a carved elephant tusk for $31,950.

The undercover officer purchased the ivory rosary, labeled “Chinese gold-inlaid rare material 18-counts rosary,” during an auction on the Live Auctioneers website.

After winning the auction, the undercover officer met with Hu to make the payment in Great Neck. At the meeting, Hu indicated that Merces would receive the ivory rosary from Hong Kong, inspect it, and then ship it to the post office box the officer provided. The word “ivory” was not mentioned in the listing for the item, nor in discussions with Hu concerning payment and shipment.

When the undercover officer inquired about purchasing a second item, however, Hu began to use the word “ivory” to describe the products being discussed. Ultimately, Hu agreed to sell the officer three ivory figurines for $2,640.

Shortly thereafter, the undercover officer wrote to Hu inquiring about buying a “full worked piece” — a reference to a carved elephant tusk — and sent as an example a “rare material” item that Merces claimed it sold at a prior auction. Although not advertised as such, the item was in fact a carved elephant tusk. In response, Hu sent the officer 36 images of what appeared to be approximately 10 different carved ivory tusks for potential purchase.

After some negotiation, they settled on one particular carved elephant ivory tusk for a purchase price of $31,950. When Wu, Hu and the undercover officer discussed shipping, Wu said, “We will probably have some problems with customs,” adding, “this item is pretty sensitive.”

On April 18, 2023, Wu delivered the carved ivory tusk personally to the undercover officer in Manhattan. At that meeting, Wu stated that the tusk had come from China and, in substance, “we still had some problems with customs, you know … we got some solution about it.” When Wu and the undercover agent talked about doing future business, Wu said, “Like this piece we have several, but you have select. We have a lot of piece, I know you prefer the ivory.”

Following the investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized MercesGallery.com pursuant to a warrant.

“Yincheng Wu and Grace Hu allegedly sold thousands of dollars’ worth of illegal ivory, harming an already endangered species by perpetuating the illicit market for ivory,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin J. Bragg Jr. “Those who partake in the illegal ivory trade will be held accountable. I thank our law enforcement partners for their assistance in this investigation.”

Last Updated: 06/20/2024
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