Scrimshaw artist gets 30 days in jail

Ivory smuggler offers apology

The lawyer for scrimshaw artist Charles Manghis said he is not certain whether his client will return to his work. The lawyer for scrimshaw artist Charles Manghis said he is not certain whether his client will return to his work. (Rob Benchley)
By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / August 2, 2011

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Just before being sentenced, a popular scrimshaw artist from Nantucket apologized to his family, to prosecutors, and to the courts yesterday for smuggling the ivory of sperm whale teeth, in violation of federal animal protection laws, and then lying about it.

“I am guilty of the offense with which I was charged,’’ Charles A. Manghis wrote in a letter to US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner. “Clearly, I have been in denial about that, as well as about the limitations imposed by the law on my art, for a very long time.’’

He told Gertner in person during a brief hearing yesterday, “I especially regret it has taken this long to accept my responsibility.’’

Minutes later, Gertner sentenced Manghis to two years of probation and 30 days in jail - to be served a weekend at a time - saying she was balancing his positive standing in the community and his commitment to his family with his conviction for smuggling the ivory of a protected species into the United States. Gertner also said she found that Manghis lied during parts of his testimony during a trial last year, specifically when he denied buying from a Ukrainian importer.

“That really pushed me to the conclusion there had to be some judgment more than just probation in this case,’’ Gertner said.

Manghis will serve the first six months of his probation under home confinement, wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

He must report to the Barnstable House of Correction by 7 p.m. on Fridays and stay until 7 p.m. on Sundays. The US Probation Office will decide which weekends he must report to jail.

Manghis must also pay a $50,000 fine.

His lawyer, Max Stern, said after a court hearing yesterday that he thought the sentence was fair.

Manghis, 56, etches pictures into ivory, a form of folk art dating back to Nantucket’s whaling heyday.

He was indicted in 2008 on charges that he bought ivory on the black market, from the Ukrainian dealer and from other sources on the Internet, in violation of the animal protection laws of the early 1970s that banned the smuggling of ivory.

He is not accused of obtaining ivory taken from an animal since the laws were passed. But prosecutors showed he smuggled ivory from outside the country to beat the scarcity and high cost of the product here.

Gertner sided with prosecutors who argued that unlawfully obtaining ivory and smuggling it into the country will only encourage the black market distribution of it, with prosecutors describing “stockpiles’’ of ivory from elephant tusks in Africa.

“If we don’t enforce these rules, the law will be upended,’’ Gertner said. “Being a fabulous artist, being a well respected artist . . . can’t excuse the running afoul of these regulations.’’

In a statement, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said, “We are pleased that the court recognized that Mr. Manghis did not simply commit regulatory offenses, but rather, he violated important federal wildlife protection laws. I hope that this prosecution reminds the public that there are serious consequences for anyone who exploits wildlife for their own financial gain.’’

Manghis was convicted in a jury-waived trial last year of conspiracy, six counts of smuggling, and two counts of making false statements in relation to illegally buying the ivory.

The Ukrainian dealer, Andriy Mikhalyov, was sentenced last year to nine months in federal prison and was deported. The investigation also led to antiques dealer David L. Place, owner of Manor House Antiques Cooperative in Nantucket. He was sentenced in March to nearly three years in prison.

Stern had argued that Manghis did not rise to the same level of culpability as Place because he was not dealing and trading the ivory, but merely using it for his personal artwork. He could not say whether Manghis will return to doing scrimshaw, but added: “Hopefully he will be able to return to it.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.