A covert photo of Li getting horny in a Miami hotel after making a purchase from an undercover USFWS agent. Photo courtesy USFWS.

 The goverment called Zhifei Li the ringleader of a criminal enterprise that spanned the globe and profited from an illegal trade that is pushing endangered animals toward extinction, and on Wednesday he was sentenced to more than five years in prison for smuggling rhino horns. It was one of the longest sentences ever handed down for wildlife smuggling.

Here’s the rundown from the Department of Justice:


Ringleader of International Rhino Smuggling Conspiracy Sentenced to 70 Months for Wildlife Trafficking Crimes
May 28, 2014

Zhifei Li, the owner of an antique business in China, was sentenced today to serve 70 months in prison for heading an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth more than $4.5 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The sentence is one of the longest sentences to be imposed in the United States for a wildlife smuggling offense.

Li, 30, of Shandong, China, the owner of Overseas Treasure Finding in Shandong, previously pleaded guilty to a total of 11 counts: one count of conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act; seven counts of smuggling; one count of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act; and two counts of making false wildlife documents.

Li was arrested in Florida in January 2013, shortly after arriving in the country, on federal charges brought under seal in New Jersey. Before he was arrested, he purchased two endangered black rhinoceros horns from an undercover USFWS agent in a Miami Beach hotel room for $59,000 while attending an antique show.

In papers filed in Newark federal court, Li admitted that he was the “boss” of three antique dealers in the United States whom he paid to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to him via Hong Kong. One of those individuals was Qiang Wang, aka “Jeffrey Wang,” who was sentenced to 37 months in prison on Dec. 5, 2013, in the Southern District of New York . Li played a leadership and organizational role in the smuggling conspiracy by arranging for financing to pay for the wildlife, purchasing and negotiating prices, directing how to smuggle the items out of the United States, and getting the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the goods and smuggle them to him in mainland China.

In pleading guilty, Li admitted that he sold 30 smuggled, raw rhinoceros horns worth approximately $3 million – approximately $17,500 per pound – to factories in China where raw rhinoceros horns are carved into fake antiques known as Zuo Jiu (which means “to make it as old” in Mandarin). In China, there is a centuries old tradition of drinking from an intricately carved “libation cup” made from a rhinoceros horn. Owning or drinking from such a cup is believed by some to bring good health, and true antiques are highly prized by collectors. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including recently carved fake antiques.

In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered Li to serve two years of supervised release and to forfeit $3.5 million in proceeds of his criminal activity as well as several Asian artifacts. Various ivory objects seized by the USFWS as part of the investigation have also been surrendered.