US cracks rhino horn ring, 7 arrested

2012-02-24 15:48

Los Angeles - Seven people have been arrested on charges of trafficking in endangered rhinoceros horns in Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York over the past week, federal officials said.

Four of the defendants were arrested in Los Angeles. The most recent arrest occurred on Wednesday night at Los Angeles International Airport, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the US attorney's office.

Jin Zhao Feng, a Chinese national, was taken into custody at the airport. Authorities suspect him of overseeing the shipment of dozens of rhino horns from the US to China.

Special agents of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations made the arrests and served search warrants in as many as five states, according to a statement from the US Justice and Interior departments.

The arrests were the result of an 18-month investigation that was called "Operation Crash" - the term for a herd of rhinoceroses - and scrutinised an international smuggling ring that trafficked in sawed-off rhinoceros horns. The horns are used by some cultures for ornamental carvings, good luck charms or believed medicinal purposes, including cancer.


Three of the alleged traffickers caught in Southern California were Jimmy Kha, 49, his girlfriend Mai Nguyen, 41, and Kha's 26-year-old son Felix. Each faces four counts of rhino horn trafficking in violation of federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.

One of the alleged suppliers, Wade Steffen, was arrested in Hico, Texas, and charged in Los Angeles, federal prosecutors said.

The Khas began receiving packages from Steffen and another alleged supplier in 2010. Seventeen packages were opened under federal search warrants and 37 rhino horns were found, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court in Los Angeles.

A search of Steffen's luggage at the Long Beach Airport on February 9 turned up $337 000 in cash. Additional searches by federal agents found rhino horns, cash, bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches. Approximately $1m in cash was seized and another $1m seized in gold nuggets, federal officials said.

"The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed," said Ignacia S Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

In New Jersey, Amir Even-Ezra was arrested on February 18 on a felony trafficking charge after purchasing rhino horns from a New York resident in New Jersey.

False documents

Antiques expert David Hausman was charged in US District Court in Manhattan with illegally trafficking rhinoceros horns and with creating false documents to conceal the illegal nature of the transaction, prosecutors said.

All species of rhinoceros are protected under US and international law and all black rhinoceros species are endangered, federal officials said.

Rhino horns are composed of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails. Rhinoceros horn is a highly valued and sought-after commodity despite the fact that international trade has been largely banned since 1976.

  • denise.wilshire - 2012-02-24 16:07

    A M A Z I N G that a country which has no natural population of rhinos can take the time to investigate it's poaching to the brink of extinction, yet our fat cat government doesn't seem to be doing a thing. Is there perhaps a cash interest in this trafficking from their side??? Hmm! it would not surprise me at all.

      Jack - 2012-02-24 16:16

      How the world is full of scum, imagine a world without these kind of people.

  • Shirley - 2012-02-24 16:08

    Please come and teach South Africa how to catch these savages!In the U.S. they take things seriously and hand out SERIOUS punishmen! As for Mr Feng I hope you spend the rest of your miserable life in jail!

  • Stan - 2012-02-24 16:21

    there's always a chinese involved... the lowest common denominator

      Randomhero6661 - 2012-02-24 16:41

      Ah stan that's racist coming from you!

      trix.duvenage - 2012-02-24 17:22

      And then there's the Chinese laws when it comes to drug mules..... They send back the ashes [I cant get over this bit of fortunate laws in some parts of the world] But YES now Obama and America will set an example on how to deal with animal murderers. Let us now wait and see how far South Africa is in arrears with this specific law.

  • Wimpie - 2012-02-24 16:42

    de-horn them...

  • Sanesh Allopi - 2012-02-24 17:30

    I think we're missing a huge opportunity here. In SA we have an absymal record of stopping poaching. If we can convince the US to follow through with a trace back through the supply chain of Rhino horn, perhaps they can nab the big guys who r promoting killing off the Rhino.

  • Klipkop - 2012-02-24 17:48

    yippekiyay but it will just push up their prices..we need to nail this from all angles, come on SA, Africa and ASIA. Jin Zhao Feng/You Suck Balls, rhino horn does sweet f-all for your libido and it will cause cancer.

  • Patsy - 2012-02-24 20:05

    Thank goodness another country is taking an interest in our remaining rhinos. Our government doesn't seem to be able or willing to do anything so, thank you the USA.

  • martin.neate - 2012-02-24 20:51

    i think the governments of these nationals must be fined millions of dollars can then china will start to do something about it to,like execute them

  • louis.b.ebersohn - 2012-02-25 10:42

    Good job!

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