NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City antiques dealer pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges he double-crossed wildlife protection authorities by first offering to help fight illegal sales of rhinoceros horns, then buying some himself.
David Hausman admitted in federal court in Manhattan that he knew at the time he was breaking laws intended to protect endangered black rhinos.
"I failed society, my family, my friends ... and the conservation and animal rights community," Hausman told the judge. "I blame no one but myself."
The case stems from an ongoing crackdown on a black market in rhino horns led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Persistent demand for rhino horn carvings — considered good luck charms or health enhancers in some cultures — has devastated the world's rhino population, authorities say.
Hausman "pretended he was helping law enforcement protect a species from being wiped out, but instead was contributing to the very problem," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement on Tuesday.
The 67-year-old Hausman, while purporting to be a legitimate tipster, alerted authorities in 2010 to an illegal rhino horn sale in Pennsylvania, court papers said.
When the sale fell through, he recruited a straw buyer in early 2011 to secretly purchase the horns himself, the papers said. He then sought to cover his tracks by making fake horns to replace real ones removed from a mounted rhino head, the papers added.
Other charges stemmed from a sting last year in which an undercover agent offered to sell Hausman another mounted rhino head. The defendant admitted buying the horns even though the agent told him the head was only 20 to 30 years old, and knowing that it needed to be over 100 years old to be legally sold.
After the transaction was completed at a truck stop in Princeton, Illinois, agents following Hausman to a motel parking lot where he was seen sawing horns off the rhino head.
As part of a plea agreement, Hausman agreed to give up several horns and carvings found in his apartment during a search in February.
He faces up to two years in prison at sentencing on Dec. 5.