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California auctioneer indicted in rhino horn investigation

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Black rhino. File art.

Jacob Chait, 34, the head of acquisitions and auctioneer of a Beverley Hills, Calif., gallery and auction house, appeared in Manhattan federal court in New York to face charges of conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns, in violation of the Lacey Act on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He is charged in a one-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on Feb. 15.

According to the DOJ, allegations contained in the indictment include:

From approximately 2009 and 2012, Chait and his co-conspirators purchased rhinoceros horns and taxidermy mounts in the U.S. and sought to sell them to foreign buyers in private deals, including in at least eight separate deals or attempted deals involving 15 rhinoceros horns worth an estimated $2.4 million. This included one alleged incident in which Chait personally smuggled two endangered black rhino horns to China in his luggage. Rhinoceros horns are worth more per pound than gold due to the high demand in Asia and increasing scarcity of supply.

The trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory have been restricted since 1976 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 180 countries around the world.
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Texas rhino horn sale results in plea

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IMG_0312Long Island Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking in Rhinoceros Horns

Nov. 29, 2016

Fengyi Zhou, a resident of Syosset, New York, and the owner of a business that specialized in Asian works of art, pleaded guilty today to illegally trafficking horns from endangered black rhinoceros.
Zhou, 49, who has worked as an Asian art dealer for years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz II for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, New York, to a one count information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.

Zhou was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in federal court, Zhou admitted to purchasing as many as five uncarved rhinoceros horns from another Asian arts dealer in New York. Along with the horns, Zhou was given an “Endangered Species Bill of Sale,” from which Zhou was made aware that four of the horns were purchased in Texas and unlawfully transported to New York. Immediately after purchasing the rhinoceros horns, Zhou offered to sell and later sold the horns, to an associate who was a Chinese national residing in the People’s Republic of China for more than $130,000.

Garlic tusk smuggling scheme

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Clockwise from top left. “What’s all this, then?”; Enough garlic to keep an Italian restaurant stocked for a decade; Gratuitous raid jacket shot using fisheye lens; Wild free-range garlic. Photo collage by Interpol

It’s difficult to pass off elephant tusks as garlic. Especially when you have 700 tusks. This is probably why more people don’t try it. More on how the scheme failed, according to Interpol, below:

Networks behind ivory and rhino horn trafficking targeted in East Africa

May 4, 2016

One man has been arrested and warrants issued for three others in connection with ongoing investigations into two organized crime networks believed to have trafficked at least 8,635 kg of ivory and 53 kg of rhino horn from East and Southern Africa to Asia.

A 44-year-old Chinese national was arrested in Tanzania on suspicion of trafficking in government trophies following the deployment of INTERPOL Investigative Support Teams to Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

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Auction official pleads in horn investigation

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 Auction official Pleads Guilty in Connection with $1 Million Wildlife Smuggling Conspiracy

March 9, 2016

Joseph Chait, the senior auction administrator of a Beverly Hills, California, gallery and auction house, pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle wildlife products made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral with a market value of at least approximately $1 million! according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to allegations contained in the Information and statements made in court filings and proceedings:

Chait and his co-conspirators engaged in illegal trafficking of wildlife with a market value of at least $1 million. Chait personally falsified customs forms by stating that rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory items were made of bone, wood or plastic. For example, during Asia Week in New York City in or about March 2011, Chait was approached about the potential sale of a carving of Guanyin, an East Asian spiritual figure made from rhinoceros horn (the Rhino Carving).

Despite knowing that it was not a genuine antique, Chait and his co-conspirators accepted the Rhino Carving for consignment, advertised the sale to foreign clients in China and put the Rhino Carving on the cover of Auction House-1’s catalogue in connection with an auction of Asian art and antiques. After the Rhino Carving sold at auction for $230,000, Chait offered to make a false document for the buyer to help the buyer smuggle the item out of the country. The fake invoice falsely stated that the item cost $108.75 and was made of plastic.

Chait and his co-conspirators also sold ivory carvings to another foreign customer and provided those carvings to that customer’s courier, even after learning that the customer had been arrested in China for smuggling ivory purchased from Chait’s auction house. More

Professor pleads in smuggling case

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 A Minnesota college philosophy professor has pleaded to moving $1 million worth of ivory and rhino horn products as part of an side antiquities business. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation found he had been exporting the items to China against federal law. Here’s a synopsis from the Department of Justice:


Professor pleads to ivory and horn trafficking

Jan. 13, 2016

A St. Cloud State University Professor pleaded guilty to smuggling elephant ivory and to illegally exporting rhinoceros horns from the United States in violation of the Lacey Act. Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, transport, sell or purchase wildlife, fish or plants that were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of a state, federal or foreign law.

YIWEI ZHENG, A/K/A STEVE ZHENG, 43, of St. Cloud, Minn., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to knowingly and fraudulently smuggling elephant ivory out of the United States on April 30, 2011, to a recipient in Shanghai, China, contrary to U.S. smuggling statutes. ZHENG also pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act by knowingly exporting two rhinoceros horns from the U.S. between July 25, 2010 and July 27, 2010, with knowledge that the two rhinoceros horns were transported and sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the United States, including the Endangered Species Act.

In addition to his employment as a Professor of Philosophy at St. Cloud State University, ZHENG operated an online business known as Crouching Dragon Antiques. As part of this business, ZHENG offered for sale and sold a variety of items, including items made of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn.

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Prison sentence in rhino horn cup smuggling scheme

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Black rhino. File art.

Black rhino. File art.

A Canadian has been sentenced to prison in a scheme that bought rhino horn libation cups in the United States and smuggled them to China.

Here’s the rundown from the Department of Justice:

Antiques Dealer Sentenced for Smuggling Cups Made from Rhinoceros Horns; Canadian Banned from Dealing in Wildlife, Eh
Nov. 13, 2015

Linxun Liao, 35, a citizen of Canada, was sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court to two years in prison for his role in a wildlife trafficking scheme in which he purchased and smuggled 16 “libation cups” carved from rhinoceros horns and worth more than $1 million from the United States to China. Liao pleaded guilty on June 30, 2015, to a two-count information, admitting to illegally smuggling rhinoceros horn objects from the United States.

According to the information, other documents filed in federal court in Manhattan and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today’s sentencing:

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Las Vegas rhino deal leads to conviction

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unfortunately, black rhinos aren’t native to Vegas. Here’s another rhino horn sting that led to an arrest:


California Man Pleads Guilty to the Sale of Horns from a Black Rhinoceros 

Aug. 21, 2015

Lumsden W. Quan, 47, an art dealer from San Francisco, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the Lacey and Endangered Species Act and to a violation of the Lacey Act for knowingly selling black rhinoceros horns to an undercover agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). His co-defendant, Edward N. Levine, charged in the indictment remains scheduled for trial on Oct. 19, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Quan pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, to all charges in the indictment. He was identified as part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

Quan admitted in federal court to conspiring with Levine to sell two black rhinoceros horns to an undercover agent posing as a Colorado wildlife collector. Quan stated that he and Levine arranged to have the horns transported to Las Vegas, where on March 19, 2014, Quan sold them to the agent for $55,000. Quan faces a maximum sentence of five-years imprisonment.

Appraiser sentenced in horn, ivory probe

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A Texas art appraiser linked to Zhifei Li has been sentenced to two years in prison in an Operation Crash rhino horn and ivory investigation. 
Here’s the latest from Immigration and Customs Enforcement: 

Antiques Appraiser Sentenced to 25 Months in Prison for Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy 

May 14, 2015

Ning Qiu, 43, of Frisco, Texas, an appraiser of Asian art, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield, in Beaumont, Texas, to 25 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory, worth nearly $1 million, from the United States to China.  

Qiu was also directed to pay a $150,000 fine, which was directed to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.

Qiu had worked for seven years as an Asian antique appraiser for an auction house in Dallas, Texas.  Qiu  had pleaded guilty to an information charging him with conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act.  He was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in federal court, Qiu admitted to acting as one of three antique dealers in the United States who Zhifei Li, the admitted “boss” of the conspiracy, paid to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to Li via Hong Kong.  Li was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison on May 27, 2014, in federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, for playing a leadership and organizational role in the smuggling conspiracy by arranging for financing to pay for the wildlife, purchasing and negotiating the price, directing how to smuggle the items out of the United States and obtaining the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the smuggled goods and then smuggle them to mainland China.

Qiu admitted to meeting Li in 2009 through his work at the auction house in Dallas, Texas, and entering into a conspiracy with Li whereby Qiu traveled throughout the United States to purchase raw and carved rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory for Li, often receiving specific instructions from Li on which items to buy and how much to pay.  Upon purchasing the items, Li transferred funds directly into Qiu’s bank accounts in the United States and China.  After acquiring the items for Li, Qiu arranged for them to be smuggled to a location in Hong Kong, which was provided by Li.  In December 2013, another one of Li’s suppliers, Qiang Wang aka Jeffrey Wang was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to 37 months in prison.

As part of his plea, Li admitted that he sold 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.  The leftover pieces from the carving process were sold for alleged “medicinal” purposes even though rhino horn is made of compressed keratin, the same material in human hair and nails and has no proven medical efficacy.

Between 2009 and 2013, Qiu purchased and smuggled to Hong Kong at least five raw rhinoceros horns weighing at least 20 pounds.  Qiu smuggled the raw rhino horns by first wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely describing them on customs and shipping documents, including by labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts. Qiu purchased several of the horns he smuggled to China from Elite Decorative Arts, an auction house located in Boynton Beach, Florida.  Elite Decorative Arts has entered a guilty plea in District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida, for its role in illegally trafficking and smuggling wildlife, including rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory and items made from coral.  Elite is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20, 2015.

Plea in U.S.-Canada rhino ring

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On Tuesday, Canadian antiques dealer Xiao Ju Guan, also known as Tony Guan, pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle rhinoceros horns from New York to Canada in connection with the  Operation Crash horn smuggling crackdown. Guan, 39, of Richmond, British Columbia, faces up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Guan and others also smuggled more than $400,000 of rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from various U.S. auction houses to Canada.

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

Guan, the president and owner of an antiques business in Richmond, British Columbia, was arrested on March 29, 2014, after flying from Vancouver to New York and purchasing two endangered black rhinoceros horns from undercover special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a storage facility in the Bronx.

After purchasing the horns, Guan had the undercover agents drive him and a female accomplice acting as his interpreter to a nearby express mail store where he mailed the horns to an address in Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the Canadian border and 17 miles from his business. Guan falsely labeled the box of black rhino horns as containing “handicrafts.” Guan indicated that he had people who could drive the horns across the border and that he had done so many times before.

Wildlife indictment in Canadian antiques raid

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Canadian Antique Dealer Charged with Trafficking Wildlife
Antique Company President Charged with Smuggling Wildlife Worth More Than $500,000
July 29, 2014

Canadian antiques dealer Xiao Ju Guan, aka Tony Guan, 39, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan today for conspiring to smuggle wildlife, including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Guan, the president and owner of an antiques business in Richmond, British Columbia, was arrested on March 29, 2014, after flying from Vancouver to New York and purchasing two endangered black rhinoceros horns from undercover special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at a storage facility in the Bronx.

After purchasing the horns in a storage pod, Guan had the undercover agents drive him and a female accomplice acting as his interpreter to a nearby express mail store where he mailed the horns to an address in Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the Canadian border and 17 miles from his business. Guan labeled the box of black rhino horns as containing “handicrafts” worth $200, even though he had just paid $45,000 for them. Guan indicated that he had people who could drive the horns across the border and that he had done so many times before.

Guan and his co-conspirators allegedly smuggled more than $500,000 of rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from various U.S. auction houses to Canada by the same method or by having packages mailed directly to Canada with false paperwork and without the required declaration or permits. One part of the criminal scheme was to falsely describe the wildlife in order to conceal Guan’s wildlife smuggling. In the case of a rhino horn purchased in Florida, the Customs paperwork claimed it was a “Wooden Horn” worth $200.

At the same time that Guan was being arrested in New York, wildlife enforcement officers with Environment Canada executed a search warrant at Guan’s antique business in Canada. Environment Canada and Justice Canada are working cooperatively with U.S. investigators and prosecutors. The Guan case is part of “Operation Crash,” a U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Justice Department crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.

Rhino horn smuggling plea

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Libation cup. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife

A Texas art appraiser has pleaded to smuggling rhino horns into China. Below are the details from the U.S. Department of Justice:

  

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy
June 24, 2014

Ning Qiu, a resident of Frisco, Texas, and an appraiser of Asian art, pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth nearly $1 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

Qiu, 43, who has worked as an Asian antique appraiser for seven years, pleaded guilty in Plano, Texas, to a one count information charging him with conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act.

Qiu was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

According to documents filed in federal court, Qiu admitted to acting as one of the three antique dealers in the United States paid by Zhifei Li, the admitted “boss” of the conspiracy, to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to Li via Hong Kong. Li was sentenced on May 27, 2014, in federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, to serve 70 months in prison for his leadership role in the smuggling conspiracy. Li arranged financing, negotiated the price and paid for rhino horn and elephant ivory. He also gave instructions on how to smuggle the items out of the United States and obtained the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the smuggled goods and then smuggle them to him in mainland China.

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Ringleader sentenced for rhino horn smuggling

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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.
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