Art By God Owner Convicted of "Illegal Rhinoceros Trafficking"

Categories: News

black_rhino_wiki.jpg
Ikiwaner via Wikimedia Commons
The black rhino is critically endangered due to poaching. One subspecies was declared extinct in 2011
Art By God is a Miami institution. Anyone who has been snarled in Biscayne Boulevard traffic has marveled at the bizarre whale bones and taxidermied cave bears in the window. Owner Gene Harris is also locally famous. He has traveled to more than 120 countries in search of treasure. Two years ago the Biscayne Times wrote a feature about him, calling the 76-year-old globetrotting explorer "Indiana Jones without the hair."

But when you deal in dead animals, there is a dark side to your business.

This afternoon, federal prosecutors announced that Harris pleaded guilty yesterday to "illegal rhinoceros trafficking" and could face up to five years in prison.

Harris did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In an email, his daughter directed questions to the family's attorney.

"He is very remorseful," said Jon Sale, an attorney at Broad and Cassell. "He plead guilty because he is guilty. He assumes responsibility for what he did, but it was not trafficking or smuggling. It involved an old horn that was not involved in the slaughtering of rhinos going on today."

"This is totally out of character of what his whole life has stood for," Sale says. "He has traveled all over the world and collected fossils and minerals in order to protect wildlife. He is almost like an institution here in Miami. This is not how he makes his living."

The case against Harris could help to explain why Art By God was abruptly closed a month ago -- almost exactly when feds filed the case against him. At the time, the explanation was simply a warehouse fire.

In reality, Harris's whole life appears to be up in flames.

According to a press release from the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, Harris used his connections to engineer an illegal deal for a California man interested in buying the horns of the incredibly rare and internationally protected black rhinoceros:

Between June 2011 and July 2011, Harris engaged in a series of telephone conversations from Miami with a customer in California to discuss and arrange for the sale of black rhinoceros horns to the customer by a resident of Phoenix, Arizona. Harris reserved airline seats and a hotel room to facilitate his travel from Miami to Phoenix in July 2011. On July 23, 2011, Harris personally drove the customer, to the home of a Phoenix couple who were in possession of a full black rhinoceros shoulder mount, including the two horns of the taxidermied mount.

At that meeting, the mount was purchased by the customer for approximately $60,000 in cash, and the rhinoceros horns pried from the head mount. To conceal the nature of the transaction and make it appear that the transaction was solely an intra-state deal, a false invoice was prepared, listing a third-party Arizona resident, also brought to the home by Harris, as the buyer. Harris was paid a "finder's fee" by the California customer of approximately $10,000 for his services in locating the seller and arranging the deal.


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Google maps
The DOJ press release implies that the horns were then shipped overseas, probably to China where, it notes, they are used as libation cups and ornamental carvings. The horns are also often ground up and snorted as they are thought to be an aphrodisiac.

Harris admitted to investigators that he knew the horns would be exported from the country without the proper permits.

He now faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The case is eerily reminiscent of the conviction of Enrique Gomez De Molina, a well known Miami artist who created strange, fantastical creatures out of the taxidermied parts of various rare animals. De Molina was sentenced to 20 months for illegally importing parts of endangered and threatened species, including a cobra, a pangolin, hornbills, and the skulls of babirusa and orangutans. He then used the pieces to create artworks that he sold for as much as $80,000.

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The "artwork" of Enrique Gomez de Molina

In the 2012 Biscayne Times profile, Harris sought to distance himself from animal slaughter, saying he isn't a hunter. "The only thing I kill is time," he said.

"The sculpture of nature is astounding, and that is the reason we sell it,"Harris said, adding that his store is educational. "We sell them as art. It's not that we're out harvesting things out of the field to take into the store and sell."

"We stay away from any purchase or selling of any endangered species or mammal," Harris claimed.

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37 comments
Felix Rosa
Felix Rosa

Isn't he same kind of thing going on with classical musicians who own vintage instruments with ivory inlays?.. No one is calling them savage or sinister. What I want to know is how these items got INTO the country in the first place.

Christian Wells
Christian Wells

I hate that store. Every time I ever went in, they followed me around like I was a criminal. Most of their stuff is sh*t anyway...

Homer Steel
Homer Steel

Oh SNAP! I guess that Store was NOT legit, after all? That sucks! :(

Victoria Montague
Victoria Montague

Or cut off his nose, with no anesthesia, and let him bleed to death.

Kristen Anne
Kristen Anne

It's a Bullshit store. He kills animals and gives God the credit for creating them.

Anastasia Biltmore
Anastasia Biltmore

I'm a meat eater and no whining hippie. That said, that shop has always been nothing more that the pinnacle of savagery. Glad it will be GONE. Let's take G-d's creatures and turn them into exhibits for the wealthy. Gross. Furthermore, WHO BUYS THAT STUFF? You want a rhino or a giraffe? How about creating an endowment at a zoo or preserve where the animal can LIVE and you can go look at it any time you like while having a nice big brass plaque next to it showing how kind and magnanimous you are as a human being.

Daniella Sforza
Daniella Sforza

Yeah!!!! I hate that shop it's sinister!! Raping the earth to sell it back to us .... Bastard

Stefano Alessio
Stefano Alessio

An unfortunate turn taken by the owner of Art by God. "The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man." —Charles Darwin, English naturalist (1809–1882)

James G. Camp
James G. Camp

Some people have really weird taste in art ? These people aren't distinguishable from pedophiles in my opinion.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

Wait!

He is facing jail time for brokering a deal of a animal head mount?  A head mount that was legally obtained?

F*ck Treehuggers. F*ck Nanny staters.


If you really cared about Rhinos you would let people own and raise them for slaughter.  Cows aren't endangered are they?  Have more than enough chickens don't we?

Admit it.  Most of you "environmentalists" wouldn't last 10 mins in the wilds.  They just live for the power and control they want to exert over others,

Alex Brummitt
Alex Brummitt

Juliana Escobar art by god or art by hell? Loblolly

Karen S. Sams
Karen S. Sams

Anybody that deals in endangered animal parts, dead or alive, is guilty as charged.

Tracey Jones
Tracey Jones

With his years of experience he knew very well that trading rhino horn was illegal. If you use the excuse that it was already dead and stuffed and it wasn't me that killed it when I brokered the deal that leaves the trade still profitable, and where there's a market people will kill to fill it. I liked his store, but I'm not sympathetic to his plight.

Peter Nova
Peter Nova

For sure those people probably set arson to their own warehouse to collect insurance money on overpriced crap that no one wants to buy, lol

Katherine Elizabeth
Katherine Elizabeth

Hope the Bayside shop is closed down as well. Umm, anyone can guess the Harris family committed arson at the warehouse?

myra wexler
myra wexler

Just read an article on the extinction of African Elephants and Rhino's due to poaching in the July 7th @New Yorker Magazine.  Their carcasses are left bloody and decaying with their faces ripped off.  

Like other GIANT creatures, they will eventually be wiped out, it is predicted.

Sad, to say the least.


WhyNotNow
WhyNotNow topcommenter

Now that would be some art, by god.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@myra wexler Extinction of Elephants?

Tell that to the natives who's food plots get raided by elephants. They do it because there isn't enough food for their ever increasing numbers.

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