July 10, By Christian Murray
A Long Island City-based art dealer art has been charged for selling items containing elephant ivory.
Robert Rogal, 70, who owns a 10,000 square foot art gallery at 47-15 36th Streets, sold a ballerina sculpture made of ivory to two undercover investigators. His sales person, Jaime Villamarin, 45, was also charged. The two defendants face up to four years in prison if convicted.
“The arrest of these two individuals should send a strong message that illegally selling artifacts made from the ivory tusks of threatened elephants will not be tolerated in Queens County,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A Brown in a statement. “Buyers of such items should also be especially cautious and only buy from licensed retailers. Otherwise, they may be indirectly contributing to the extinction of one of the world’s most magnificent animals – the elephant.”
According to the charges, the two investigators made an appointment to visit Ro Gallery, known for selling paintings, photographs and sculptures produced by thousands of artists.
The investigators met Villamarin on May 30 and were shown two ballerina sculptures—allegedly made with ivory. Villamarin allegedly said: “These are ivory, but we don’t list them as such because you can’t sell ivory,” according to the District Attorney’s office.
An investigator later followed up via e-mail, was quoted a price and came back to the gallery on June 14 and paid $2,612 in cash for one of the ballerina sculptures. Rogal, the owner, then showed the investigators another piece—priced at $3,600—and allegedly stated: “I believe it is ivory” and “they don’t even allow the sale of them [ivory].”
The investigators left the gallery with the ballerina they bought and got it examined. Experts determined that it was made of ivory.
The investigators obtained a search warrant and raided the gallery on Thursday, July 6. They recovered several sculptures made with ivory, as well as artifacts believed to be made from the tooth of a sperm whale and the skin of crocodiles, according to the District Attorney’s office. Forensic analysis is pending.
Rogal, who lives on East 74th Street in Manhattan, and Vallamarin, from Brooklyn, were released on their own recognizance and ordered to return to court on August 29.
“Aggressively cracking down on the illegal market for ivory will help bring an end to the slaughtering of elephants and send a clear message that we will not allow this trade to continue in New York,” Brown said.