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North Jersey Man Sentenced for Sale of Carvings Made of Sperm Whale Ivory, or Scrimshaw

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Woodbridge NJ, a Middlesex County, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to five years’ probation, including six months’ home confinement, for the interstate sale of carvings made of sperm whale ivory, U.S Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Richard Gontarek, 55, of Woodbridge, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer in Newark federal court to an information, charging him with two counts of violating the Lacey Act, by selling to a buyer in Pennsylvania carvings made of sperm whale ivory that Gontarek should have known were possessed in violation of New Jersey State law. Judge Hammer imposed the sentence today by videoconference.

Scrimshaw is scrollwork, engravings, and carvings done in bone or ivory. Typically it refers to the artwork created by whalers, engraved on the byproducts of whales, such as bones or cartilage. It is most commonly made out of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, the baleen of other whales, and the tusks of walruses

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Jan. 3, 2018, and on Dec. 6, 2018, Gontarek shipped a package containing a carving made from the tooth of a sperm whale to a buyer in Etter, Pennsylvania, in exchange for payment. Sperm whales are listed in Appendix I to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The Lacey Act makes it a crime to sell in interstate commerce wildlife possessed in violation of any state law when in the exercise of due care the seller should have known that the wildlife was possessed in violation of the state law. New Jersey state law makes it unlawful for any person to possess with intent to sell ivory or any item that contains or is made from ivory.

Gontarek has agreed to pay a fine of $2,800 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacey Act Reward Fund. He cannot possess, purchase, sell or transport wildlife protected under federal or state law during the probationary period.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, under the direction of Resident Agent in Charge Sean Mann, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen P. O’Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Government Fraud Unit in Newark.


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