NEW YORK — An antique dealer accused of being a double agent in a rhinoceros horn investigation has pleaded guilty, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

David Hausman, a Manhattan dealer, told U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents he wanted to assist with rhino horn trafficking investigations but allegedly secretly purchase contraband, officials said.

Hausman, 67, pleaded guilty on Tuesday Manhattan federal court to obstruction of justice and creating false records, in relation to illegal rhinoceros horn trafficking, according to a Department of Justice release.

“David Hausman pretended he was helping law enforcement protect a species from being wiped out but instead he was contributing to the very problem,” U.S. Attorney Bharara said in a prepared statement.

Hausman was arrested in February as part of Operation Crash (get it, “Crash” is the term for a herd of rhinos), a rhino horn trafficking probe.

All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law, and all black rhinoceros species are endangered. Trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

Still, demand for the horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes.

According to court records, Hausman tipped off wildlife agents that the taxidermied head of a black rhinoceros containing two horns had been illegally sold by a Pennsylvania auction house in December 2010. When he found out the sale wasn’t completed, Hausman used a straw man buyer to secretly purchase the rhino mount, according to justice officials.

He had the buyer to remove the horns and replace then with a fake set he fashioned to deceive investigators, officials said. The buyer sent him the real horns.

Then in September 2011, Hausman answered an Internet offer to sell another taxidermied black rhinoceros head with two horns. The seller was really an undercover agent who collected correspondence from Hausman, including a his request that the mount was more then 100 years old, justice officials said. Horns more than 100 years old are exempt from rhino trade restrictions.

The deal went down in a Princeton, Ill., truck stop parking lot, and Hausman was later seen sawing off the horns, justice officials said.

During his February arrest, wildlife agents seized four rhinoceros heads, six black rhinoceros horns – two from the truck stop transaction – numerous carved and partially carved rhinoceros horns, fake rhinoceros horns and $28,000 in cash, justice officials said.

More on rhino horns and Operation Crash from our earlier piece here.

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