Ex-embassy employee admits importing ivory

October 23, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A U.S. State Department employee yesterday admitted to illegally importing African elephant ivory, and federal prosecutors say the conviction is the first under a 1989 law.

Kenneth Loff, 49, of Stafford, Va., pleaded guilty before Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Klein in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to a misdemeanor count of violating the African Elephant Conservation Act.

Speaking softly in reply to a question from Magistrate Judge Klein, Mr. Loff said he had arranged for the shipment of nearly 1,000 pieces of ivory. Included were 10 tusks, as well as carvings, beads and jewelry made from ivory. Customs officials estimated the commercial value at $65,000.

The crime carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Mr. Loff reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, who agreed to recommend a sentence that carries a maximum jail term of six months.

Mr. Loff was released on his own recognizance.

The 1989 law banning the importation of tusks is part of a worldwide effort to protect the population of African elephants. The United Nations also has passed a resolution against elephant ivory sales.

The African elephant population dropped dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s as poachers killed them for their tusks. According to one figure, 1.3 million elephants roamed eastern and southern Africa in 1980, but only 625,000 exist now.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert M. Thomas Jr. said Mr. Loff bought the ivory legally between 1985 and 1988 when he was a communications officer at U.S. embassies in South Africa and Zaire.

Mr. Thomas said Mr. Loff took the ivory with him in 1988 when he was transferred to Bonn. Before returning to the United States in August 1991, Mr. Loff arranged to have the ivory sent with his other belongings to the Port of Baltimore, where it was seized by U.S. Customs agents.

Adam Hoffinger, Mr. Loff's lawyer, said his client did not bring the ivory into the country to sell.

"It was purchased for Mr. Loff's personal collection and for gifts to friends and family," he said.

Mr. Thomas said the quantity of ivory originally caused government officials to suspect it was part of an illegal trafficking operation. But he said he would not dispute the claim the ivory was intended for personal use.

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