NEW YORK — A one-time reality show star and Beverly Hills auctioneer has been charged with conspiring to smuggle and sell highly-endangered rhinoceros horns around the world.
Jacob Chait, 34, the head of acquisitions at I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers in California, appeared in six episodes of “Final Offer” on the Discovery channel in 2012.
He has been charged in federal court in Manhattan with taking part in a smuggling ring that purchased rhino horns and taxidermy mounts in the U.S. and sold them to buyers overseas in private deals between 2009 and 2012.
The group took part in at least eight deals during that time, involving 15 rhino horns worth an estimated $2.4 million, federal prosecutors said.
In one episode, Chait is accused of personally smuggling two black rhino horns to China in his own luggage.
Authorities said rhino horn sells for a higher price than gold due to high demand in Asia where it is perceived to have strong medicinal properties and its increasing scarcity as a result of rampant poaching in the wild.
“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,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Trading rhino horns and elephant ivory has been banned around the world since 1976 under a United Nations treaty.
Chait is charged with violating the Lacey Act, a U.S. law that bans trafficking in wildlife. He faces up to five years in prison.
Last year, Chait’s relative, Joey Chait, who was a senior official at the family auction house, was sentenced to a year in jail for dealing in rhino horn and elephant ivory.
In 2015, the auction house landed in hot water when actor Nicholas Cage was forced to turn over a rare stolen dinosaur skull he bought from I.M. Chait. U.S. authorities later repatriated it back to Mongolia. Neither Cage nor the gallery was accused of wrongdoing in the affair.