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Seven arrests in US clampdown on rhino horn trade

28/02/2012 16:19:50

Possible fines and prison sentences

If convicted, maximum penalties under these charges are 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.

Let's hope that, if found guilty, they get the strongest possible sentence - And even that would be too light for anyone involved in this most barbaric of crimes. 

US federal officials announce nationwide crackdown on black market rhino trade
February 2012. Seven people have been arrested on charges of trafficking in endangered black rhinoceros horn over the past week in Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., and New York, the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior have announced. Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) made the arrests and have executed search warrants in five different states as part of "Operation Crash," a multi-agency effort to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.

In Los Angeles, Jin Zhao Feng, a Chinese national who allegedly oversaw the shipment of at least dozens of rhino horns from the United States to China, was arrested. Other arrests include members of an alleged U.S.-based trafficking ring that supplied rhino horns to Feng.

37 rhino horns found
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.

Evidence seized by service special agents during searches related to Los Angeles defendants in Operation Crash. Items shown include rhino horns and parts. Credit: USFWS

Evidence seized by service special agents during searches related to Los Angeles defendants in Operation Crash. Items shown include rhino horns and parts. Credit: USFWS

Cash & gold seized
A search of Steffen's luggage at the Long Beach Airport in California on Feb. 9, 2012, turned up $337,000 in cash. In additional searches conducted by FWS and ICE, agents found rhinoceros horns, cash, bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches. Approximately $1 million in cash was seized and another $1 million seized in gold ingots.

New Jersey arrest
In New Jersey, Amir Even-Ezra was arrested 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.

Antique dealer arrested
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. 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 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."

Operation Crash (a "crash" is the term for a herd of rhinoceros) is a continuing investigation by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior FWS, with assistance from other federal and local law enforcement agencies including ICE and the Internal Revenue Service. The investigation is being led by the Special Investigations Unit of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement and involves a task force of agents focused on rhino trafficking.

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