Smuggling Ring Sentenced in Los Angeles for Criminal Trafficking of Endangered

Vinh Chuong “Jimmy” Kha, 50, and Felix Kha 26, were sentenced May 15 in federal district court in Los Angeles to serve 42 and 46 months, respectively, in prison for crimes related to illegal international trafficking of rhinoceros horn.

In addition to the prison sentences, the two defendants were ordered to pay a total of $20,000 in criminal fines and pay a $185,000 tax fraud penalty and assessment. In addition, Jimmy Kha’s Win Lee Corporation was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Jimmy and Felix Kha, along with Win Lee Corporation, were also ordered to pay a total of $800,000 in restitution to the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, a statutorily created fund that is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to support international efforts to protect and conserve rhinos and other critically endangered species around the world. The defendants previously abandoned their portion of interest in $2 million worth of rhino parts and vehicles seized in the investigation.

The Khas are among several individuals charged so far with federal crimes as a result of “Operation Crash,” an ongoing FWS-led investigation of the black market rhino horn trade named for the term used to describe a herd of rhinoceros.

“The Khas’ smuggling operation fueled international demand and played a significant role in driving the price of rhino horn to nearly $25,000 per pound,” said U.S. Attorney Birotte. “It was that rising value of rhino horn that encouraged ruthless poachers to scour the South African wilderness in search of profits. The Khas played a role in pushing species like the African black rhino to the brink of extinction, which is why we aggressively prosecuted this case and sought lengthy prison terms.”

On Sept. 14, 2012, the Khas pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, smuggling, wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, money laundering and tax fraud, and Win Lee Corporation pleaded guilty to smuggling and wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act. In February 2012, at the time of the arrest of Jimmy and Felix Kha, FWS agents seized rhinoceros mounts and horns, $1 million in cash, approximately $1 million in gold ingots, jewelry, watches and precious stones, a 2009 BMW 759 Li Sedan and a 2008 Toyota Forerunner from the defendants and their co-conspirators. Under the plea agreement, the defendants agreed to the forfeiture of these items, which include nine rhino horns and six rhino feet. Ultimately, prior to sentencing, the defendants formally abandoned all the wildlife and the instrumentalities of the crimes seized from them (such as the vehicles) to the United States. The Khas’ portion of the seized cash and gold, proceeds of their illegal activities, will be used to pay the $800,000 in restitution ordered at sentencing.

Over the course of at least two years from January 2010, through February 2012, Jimmy and Felix Kha conspired with individuals throughout the United States to purchase white and black rhinoceros horn despite knowing that these animals were protected by federal law as endangered and threatened species. Although Jimmy Kha paid, on average, between $5,000 to $7,000 per pound of rhinoceros horn, the horn acquired by the defendants had a fair market value of at least $1 million to $2.5 million. Under the plea agreement, the defendants admitted that they purchased the horns in order to export them overseas to be sold and made into libation cups or used for traditional medicine; made illegal payments to Vietnamese customs officials to ensure clearance of horn shipments to that country; and knowingly evaded income taxes owed in 2009 and 2010.