A detective purchased from an Everett man this figurine and two other items believed to contain elephant ivory. (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife)

A detective purchased from an Everett man this figurine and two other items believed to contain elephant ivory. (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Everett ivory seller jailed in first conviction under new law

Donald Rooney, 72, was given 15 days in jail, a month under house arrest and $14,000 in fines.

EVERETT — An Everett-area man became the first person convicted for selling ivory under Washington’s new state law banning endangered wildlife trafficking.

On Thursday, a Snohomish County judge sentenced Donald Rooney to 15 days in jail, a month of house arrest, and $14,000 in fines for selling carved ivory pieces on Craigslist. He must surrender hundreds of pieces of suspected ivory that state Fish and Wildlife officers seized from his home.

Rooney, a longtime antiques dealer, lived 72 years without being convicted of a crime. In late 2017, he posted an ad for “Old Japanese Carvings — Netsukes for Sale — $35.” Netsuke is a Japanese word for carved trinkets made of wood or ivory. The ad specified that prices ranged up to $150.

“There are too many,” Rooney wrote in the ad, “to take a photo of each item.”

Rooney began collecting the pieces decades ago, he told Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy in court Thursday. His partner had just died around the time he posted the ad, and he was downsizing his collection.

An undercover detective with Fish and Wildlife expressed interest in the goods. She arrived at the home on Mukilteo Speedway in regular street clothes. Rooney explained the history of the items for sale, and the undercover detective agreed to pay $300 for three pieces purportedly as Christmas gifts for a friend who lived in Japan, according to charging papers filed in Snohomish County by the state Attorney General’s Office.

All three of the items — labeled by authorities as “kabuki with rotating face,” “three men with bowl,” and “old man holding mask” — lit up when exposed to ultraviolet light, suggesting they were made of ivory.

Then they were tested at a national lab in Ashland, Oregon. They tested positive as DNA matches for African elephants, according to charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court. Ivory poaching, combined with human expansion, has led to a dramatic drop in the elephant population of Africa in recent years.

Fish and Wildlife seized at least 1,500 carvings and other pieces of suspected ivory from Rooney’s home, and he must surrender those pieces as part of his sentence.

A second man charged around the same time as Rooney is awaiting trial in King County. Yunhua Chen is accused of trying to sell ivory statuettes on eBay.

Rooney pleaded guilty this month to a violation of the Washington Animal Trafficking Act, a felony. The act also bans trafficking in products derived from endangered species of “rhinoceros, pangolin, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah, marine turtle, shark (and) ray.”

Rooney’s defense attorney Prairie Cloutier told the judge Thursday that while her client was aware of international ivory trafficking laws, Rooney did not realize the state law had changed. He accepted that that was not a valid defense.

“I think this is something that if he had known, he wouldn’t be doing it,” Cloutier said.

Rooney was required to report to jail at an assigned date.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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