The owner of a downtown Anchorage gallery that peddles historical curiosities has been charged with illegally trafficking walrus tusk ivory and tax evasion, according to a statement Thursday from federal prosecutors.
The owner of The Antique Gallery, 75-year-old Walter Earl, made illicit purchases of more than 50 walrus ivory tusks that he intended to sell, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska Bryan Schroder said in a statement.
For the last 30 years, Earl’s gallery has sold military antiques, estate jewelry, rare firearms, Alaska Native art and other goods, according to its website. Earl is charged with four felonies in federal court, including three Lacey Act violations for walrus ivory purchases and sales and one felony count of federal tax evasion, according to the statement.
In November 2017, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents removed what appeared to be massive whale vertebrae and walrus skull and tusks from the building at 1001 W. Fourth Ave., where the gallery is located. Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward confirmed at the time that a federal investigation was underway involving The Antique Gallery, but did not release any information about the nature of that case. Steward is now prosecuting the case against Earl.
The charges brought against Earl allege that in 2017, he illegally bought and sold walrus head mounts — skulls with ivory tusks — on three occasions.
The Lacey Act, passed in 1900, prohibits the sale of wildlife or wildlife products that are taken or possessed in violation of state or foreign law, and was the first real wildlife protection act passed in the U.S.
In Alaska, walrus is legally hunted only by Alaska Natives for subsistence and can be sold only to other Alaska Natives, either directly or through a registered agent. Walrus ivory must be significantly altered into an authentic Native handicraft to be sold commercially.
Federal prosecutors said Earl tried to cover up the alleged illegal purchases and sales with falsified documents, and that he lied to his customers about the ivory’s origins. He allegedly told some buyers that the ivory was old — collected “pre-act" — and that it was legal for him to purchase because he employs Alaska Natives, according to the statement.
Investigators claim that Earl deliberately failed to file individual income tax returns from 2013 to 2017 and that his income, including money earned through his gallery, totaled $679,245 for those years. He designed his transactions at multiple banks in ways that wouldn’t create income and revenue records and told his employees not to report their income, prosecutors alleged in the statement.
Earl declined to comment on the charges against him when reached by phone.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per charge, according to federal prosecutors.
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