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U.S. Justice Dept. Efforts Against Wildlife Trafficking

10 September 2013

U.S. Department of Justice
September 9, 2013

Fact Sheet: Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking at the Department of Justice

President Obama signed Executive Order 13648 on Combating Wildlife Trafficking on July 1, 2013, establishing a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. The Task Force is co-chaired by the Secretaries of State and the Interior and the Attorney General, or their designees, and includes senior-level representatives from 14 additional federal departments and agencies.

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), together with United States Attorneys’ offices across the country, is responsible for prosecuting international wildlife trafficking crimes, primarily under the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, as well as crimes related to wildlife trafficking, such as smuggling, money laundering, and criminal conspiracy. The Department also works in the international sphere by assisting and working with enforcement partners in source, transit, and destination countries for illegal trade in protected wildlife. The Justice Department works in close collaboration with the State Department and various international organizations and initiatives, including efforts to train investigators, prosecutors, and judges, resulting in more proactive international law enforcement operations.

Working with the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, ENRD’s Environmental Crime Section and U.S. Attorneys’ offices throughout the country have successfully prosecuted numerous cases of illicit wildlife smuggling involving trafficking of rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory, South African leopard, Asian and African tortoises and reptiles, and many other forms of protected wildlife and protected plant species. A snapshot of these cases follows below.

Wildlife Trafficking Prosecutions

Black Market Trade in Rhinoceros Horn

The following cases are the result of “Operation Crash,” an ongoing multi-agency effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the illegal trafficking of endangered rhinoceros horns.

United States v. Jin Zhao Feng et al.,(Central District of California): Vinh Chuing "Jimmy" Kha, Felix Kha, Jarod Wade Steffen, Jin Zhao Feng and the Win Lee Corporation were all involved in a U.S.-based trafficking ring that operated in the black market trade of endangered Rhinoceros horn. On May 14, 2013, Vinh Chuing "Jimmy" Kha, Felix Kha, and Win Lee Corporation were sentenced for their involvement. Jimmy Kha will serve 42 months in prison followed by three years’ supervised release. He will pay a $10,000 fine and $76,062 in restitution to the IRS. Felix Kha will serve 46 months in prison, followed by three years’ supervised release. He will pay a $10,000 fine and $109,562 in restitution to the IRS. Win Lee Corporation will pay a $100,000 fine and will complete a five-year term of probation. The Khas previously pleaded guilty to five counts charging conspiracy, smuggling, Lacey Act trafficking, money laundering, and tax fraud violations. The corporation pleaded guilty to two felony counts charging smuggling and Lacey Act trafficking. Wade Steffen is scheduled to be sentenced on October 21, 2013. A co-defendant, Nhu Mai Nguyen, is scheduled for trial to begin on Oct. 8, 2013.

United States v. Qiang Wang, (Southern District of New York): Qiang Wang, a/k/a Jeffrey Wang, a New York antiques dealer, pleaded guilty on Aug. 7, 2013 in New York City to conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory and violate wildlife trafficking laws. Wang was charged for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China.

Wang is one of three defendants charged in February 2013 in Newark, Miami, and New York City for their alleged roles in an international rhino horn smuggling ring.

Illegally Imported Protected Black Coral

U.S. v. GEM Manufacturing (District of Puerto Rico): GEM Manufacturing LLC, frequently illegally imported illegal rare protected coral for use in its high-end jewelry and sculpture. GEM pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $1.8 million, pay $500,000 in community service payments, and forfeit in excess of $1 million in products. Its owner, who cooperated in the investigation, was sentenced to a month in prison, 300 hours of community service, and fines and payments in excess of $1.1 million. The foreign national importers, Ivan Chu and Gloria Chu, were apprehended while in the U.S., plead guilty, and were sentenced to 30 months and 20 months in prison respectively, and to pay $25,000 in combined fines.

Illegal Importation of South African Leopard Hides and Skulls

United States v. Wayne Breitag et al., (District of South Dakota): Breitag, a U.S. hunter and Jan Groenewald Swart, a South African guide illegally imported five illegal South African taken leopard hides and three leopard skulls into the U.S. Breitag was convicted of smuggling and Lacey Act violations and sentenced to serve six months’ home confinement and to pay a $20,000 fine. His sentence includes three years’ supervised release during which he is barred from hunting or being with anyone who is hunting. He also will forfeit the hide. His co-defendant, Swart, served an 18-month prison sentence, and was deported upon his release.

African Elephant Ivory Smuggling

United States v. Tania Siyam, (Northern District of Ohio): On Aug. 7, 2008, Tania Siyam, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to five years in prison and will pay a $100,000 fine for illegally smuggling ivory from the West African country of Cameroon into the United States. Siyam originally operated art import and export businesses in Montréal, Canada, and Cameroon that were fronts for smuggling products from endangered and protected wildlife species, including raw elephant ivory. The two ivory shipments to Ohio included parts from at least 21 African elephants.

United States v. Kemo Sylla, et al., (Eastern District of New York): In December 2008, an indictment was unsealed charging the defendants with illegally importing ivory over a two-year period through New York’s JFK Airport disguised as African handicrafts and wooden instruments. The six defendants pleaded guilty to Lacey Act violations and received sentences ranging from one year of probation to 14 months’ incarceration. A number of the defendants also were ordered to pay fines to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.

Illegal Importation of Endangered Species

United States v. Enrique Gomez De Molina (Southern District of Florida): From 2009 to 2011, Enrique Gomez De Molina illegally imported parts of protected wildlife from Southeast Asia to the United States in violation of the Lacey Act. Among the illegal shipments De Molina procured were cobras, pangolins, hornbills, babirusa (a species of pig), orangutans, Java kingfishers, and a Slow Loris. De Molina pleaded guilty to a Lacey Act violation for smuggling wildlife and was sentenced to serve 20 months’ in prison, followed by a one-year term of supervised release, a $6,000 fine, and ordered to forfeit all of the smuggled wildlife in his possession.

Whale Teeth and Narwhal Tusks

United States v. David Place, (District of Massachusetts): David Place illegally bought and imported sperm whale teeth and narwhal tusks into the United States. The market value of the teeth and tusks illegally imported by Place was determined to be between $200,000 and $400,000. Place was convicted by a jury of seven felony counts including conspiracy, Lacey Act, and smuggling violations, and was sentenced to 33 months in prison followed by a three‐year term of supervised release.