Here’s the latest on the Operation Crash investigation into rhino horn trafficking:

Antiques Dealer Pleads Guilty in New York City Federal Court to Wildlife Smuggling

Qiang Wang, a/k/a Jeffrey Wang, a New York antiques dealer, pleaded guilty today in federal court in New York City to conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory and violate wildlife trafficking laws, according to the Department of Justice.

Wang was arrested in February 2013 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China. He pleaded guilty Aug. 7 before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District of New York.

“Wang and others conspired in an illegal trade that is threatening the future of these species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “This prosecution and continuing investigation should send a clear message to buyers and sellers that we will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who are involved in this devastating trade.”

According to the information, plea agreement, and statements made during court proceedings:

In China, there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carving rhinoceros horn cups. Drinking from such a cup was believed by some to bring good health, and antique carvings are highly prized by collectors. Libation cups and other ornamental carvings are particularly sought after in China and in other Asian countries, as well as in the United States. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.

Between approximately January 2011 and February 2013, Wang conspired with at least two others to smuggle objects containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory out of the United States knowing that it was illegal to export such items without required permits. Due to their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros and elephant species are protected under international trade agreements. Wang made and used false U.S. Customs Declarations for the packages containing rhinoceros horn and ivory objects in order to conceal the true contents of the packages, and did not declare them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection as required under U.S. law and international trade agreements.

Wang, 34, of Flushing, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, items recovered from Wang’s apartment, including an ivory statute found hidden behind his bed, will be forfeited. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Forrest on Oct. 25, 2013.