Feds bust rhino horn traffickers

February 23, 2012

Rhino that has had its horn removed to protect it from poachers.

Federal agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested seven people on charges of trafficking endangered rhino horn in the United States, reports the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior. The arrests were made in Los Angeles, Newark, and New York.

According to authorities, the trafficking ring was overseen by Jin Zhao Feng, a Chinese national, who orchestrated the shipment of "at least dozens" of rhino horns from the United States to China. Feng was arrested last night.

The FWS described the operations in a statement:
    Last weekend, members of an alleged U.S.-based trafficking ring that supplied rhino horns to Feng were arrested after being charged with conspiracy and violations of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act for purchasing rhino horns from various suppliers in the U.S. Charges were filed against Jimmy Kha, the owner of Win Lee Corporation; his son Felix Kha; and Mai Nguyen, the owner of a nail salon where packages containing rhinoceros horns were being mailed. One of the alleged suppliers, Wade Steffen, was arrested in Hico, Texas, and charged in Los Angeles. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the Khas began receiving packages from Steffen and another supplier in 2010. Seventeen packages were opened under federal search warrants and 37 rhinoceros horns were found...

    ... In New Jersey, Amir Even-Ezra was arrested Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, on a felony trafficking charge in violation of the Lacey Act after purchasing rhino horns from an individual from New York at a service station off of the New Jersey Turnpike. Even-Ezra allegedly brought a scale for weighing the horns and envelopes of cash to the meeting, which was brokered by an individual outside of the United States.

    In U.S. District Court in Manhattan, antiques expert David Hausman was also charged with illegally trafficking rhinoceros horns and with creating false documents to conceal the illegal nature of the transaction, both in violation of the Lacey Act. Hausman allegedly purchased a black rhinoceros mount (a taxidermied head of a rhinoceros) from an undercover officer in Illinois and was later observed sawing off the horns in a motel parking lot. Rhino horns were found in a search conducted on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, following his arrest.
A search of one of the defendant's luggage at the Long Beach Airport turned up $337,000 in cash, according to the FWS. Subsequent searches found rhinoceros horns, diamonds, Rolex watches, $1 million in cash, and $1 million in gold.

The alleged traffickers face a range of fines and jail time — up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy; five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for Lacey Act violations; and up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for violations of the Endangered Species Act — if convicted.

Several rhino species are critically endangered due to poaching for their horn, which is believed to have medicinal value in traditional Chinese medicine.

“Rhino horn traffickers continue to fuel the illegal demand for horn, demand that has led to hundreds of rhino deaths and put the white and black rhino in danger of extinction in the wild,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “These arrests have dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling, but represent only the beginning of a significant crackdown on this illegal trade.”

The prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.

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mongabay.com (February 23, 2012).

Feds bust rhino horn traffickers.