Zhifei Li, 30, leader of an international horn smuggling ring that trafficked rhino horns and elephant ivory, has been sentenced to almost 6 years in a US prison.
Li pleaded guilty in December to seven counts of smuggling and four related charges. Yesterday, he was sentenced by US District Judge Esther Salas to 70 months in prison.
Salas also ordered Li to forfeit some $3.5 million in proceeds from his criminal activity and once his sentence ends he will have to serve two years of supervised releases.
Li admitted to buying wildlife items from several antique dealers in the US and smuggling them to Hong Kong. He admitted selling 30 smuggled rhino horns worth some $3 million to factories in China, where they were carved into different things. In total, Li admitted to trafficking over $4.5 million in horns and ivory between late 2010 and early 2013.
Li was arrested in January 2013 as part of ‘Operation Crash’, a US Fish and Wildlife Service investigation addressing all aspects of U.S. involvement in the black market rhino horn trade. A total of 17 arrests have been made so far. Charges filed against these defendants include conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, bribery, and making false documents as well as violations of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act.
“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.
“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.”