Artist Guilty in Trafficking Rare Species
Miami Beach - A local artist pleaded guilty to trafficking in protected wildlife this week, after federal prosecutors accused him of importing a vast range of animal parts for use in bizarre sculptures that sold for up to $80,000 at Art Basel Miami. One visiting art collector of ArtKabinett network saw several of his works with red "sold" dots at last week's Art Miami fair. Enrique Gomez De Molina -- who works part time as an upholsterer, hence cultivating his taxidermy skills -- bought orangutan skulls, a king cobra, a slow loris, a woolly stork, skulls of heavy-beaked birds called hornbills, a rare bird called the Himalayan Monal and many other protected species, according to court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He imported them from China, Indonesia, Bali, Thailand and the Philippines. One work called "I Am Walrus", consisting of jewel beetle wings, swordfish, polyester, oil, glass, wood and foam, sold to a Kentucky museum for $25,000. Another work called "Rhinoplasty", shown above, is a creation covered in beetle fore wings imported from Thailand. It sold for $80,000 at Art Basel, according to court papers. Under an international treaty that strictly regulates the wildlife trade, protected animals or animal parts may not be imported without a permit from the country of origin and declarations to U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. De Molina evaded these requirements and knew he was breaking the law, asking senders to wrap the animal parts in carbon paper to conceal the contents. Sentencing has been scheduled for March 2 before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. De Molina faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. An Assistant U.S. Attorney involved in the prosecution of this matter noted that the statute broadly inculpates "purchasers" of these works, as would clearly include any of Molina's collectors. In fact, the prominent Miami buyer at Art Basel sent his Rhinoplasty piece to Canada, which further violates U.S. and global export regulations. He now risks further international criminal sanctions. Federal law mandates reimbursement by De Molina to the "victim", i.e., any unwitting collector. However, legal re-sale by that collector is now impossible, thus rendering these artworks basically worthless. In this case, should you happen to possess a rare and costly De Molina "bird in the hand", you might just want to throw it back in the bush.