(RHINOS/IVORY TRADE) The leader of an international crime ring accused of trading ivory rhinoceros horns was sentenced to nearly six years in prison earlier this week. Back in December, ringleader Zhifei Li pled guilty to smuggling millions of dollars worth of illegal rhino horns to his home in China.
Rhinos are one of the world’s largest animals and have no natural predators, except for humans. Rhino horns can be sold for almost $18,000 a pound and are used for trinkets and Chinese medicine.
What do you think? Was his punishment sufficient? Share your thoughts in the comments below and continue reading for more on Zhifei Li’s sentence and his involvement in the bloody ivory trade. — Global Animal
NJ.com, Thomas Zambito
The leader of an international crime ring that traded in prized rhinoceros horns was sentenced to nearly six years in prison today, one of the harshest punishments yet for a wildlife smuggling case in the U.S, Newark federal prosecutors said.
Zhifei Li, 30, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in a criminal enterprise that smuggled about $4.5 million in rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks from the U.S. to his native China.
Li pleaded guilty in December to seven counts of smuggling and four related charges for his role as the head of a ring that trafficked in the parts of animals facing extinction.
U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas ordered Li to forfeit some $3.5 million in proceeds from his criminal activity and he will have to serve two years of supervised releases when his sentence ends.
The horns of the prehistoric rhino – one of the largest animals left in the world, with no predators other than humans – command top-dollar prices in countries like China, where they are used as good luck charms and in ornamental carvings, prosecutors say.
In China, the horns of rhinos can fetch as much as $17,500-a-pound.
“The multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife market is supplied by animal poaching of unthinkable brutality and fed by those willing to profit from such cruelty,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.
Li was the owner of an antiques business in Shandong, China, known as Overseas Treasure Finding.
He admitted to smuggling about 30 rhino horns valued at $3 million to factories in China. There, prosecutors say, raw rhinoceros horns are carved into “libation cups” used in a centuries-old drinking tradition. Owning or drinking from such a cup is believed to bring good health, making them a prized commodity among antiques dealers.
The federal investigation of Li and others dates back to November 2011 when a confidential informant sold two rhino horns to a middleman at the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to court papers.
Li was arrested in January 2013 when he came to a Miami Beach hotel to purchase rhino horns, prosecutors say. Before his arrest, he paid $59,000 for two endangered black rhinoceros horns valued from an undercover agent working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, prosecutors say.
As part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Li admitted he was the “boss” of three antique dealers in the U.S. who he paid to help him obtain horns and tusk and smuggle them to China, through Hong Kong, prosecutors say.
Among the dealers was Qiang Wang, also known as Jeffrey Wang, who prosecutors say played a leading role in the smuggling ring by arranging financing to pay for the items, prosectors say. In December, Wang was sentenced to 37 months in prison in Manhattan Federal Court.
The fish and wildlife service has in recent years begun targeting those who trade in the black market for rhino horns and other protected species
“Wild populations of rhinos are being slaughtered at appalling rates due to the greed and indifference of criminals like Li and his accomplices,” said Dan Ashe, the director of the fish and wildlife service. “The sentence handed down today serves notice to other organized trafficking and poaching rings that their crimes will not go unpunished.”