Shusen Wei, 45, a citizen of China, pleaded guilty today in Miami federal court to charges stemming from his involvement in the smuggling of a carved rhinoceros horn from the United States to China, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment & Natural Resources Division, Wifredo A, Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and William C. Woody, Chief of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.
Wei entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, who scheduled sentencing for April 29, 2013. Wei faces a possible term in prison of up to 10 years on the single count filed against him, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.
According to documents filed in Court, Wei traveled from China to Miami, Fla., in January 2013, to attend the Original Miami Beach Antique Show. While attending the show, he roomed with another Chinese national who was later arrested for smuggling of rhinoceros horns from the United States to China. In pleading guilty, Wei admitted that he paid commissions to this other individual to purchase objects made of rhino horn in the United States and smuggle them to China and that he knew that this individual was engaged in the smuggling of protected species of wildlife, including rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Wei also knew that this individual had paid bribes to Chinese customs officials to assist in his smuggling. Special Agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service learned that Wei had previously purchased libation cups made from carved rhinoceros horns from this same individual. One of those items was sold at a U.S. auction house for $242,500. This and other photographs of carved rhinoceros horns were found on Wei’s cell phone.
Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law, and all black rhinoceros species are endangered. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by 178 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets. Nevertheless, the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population. As a result, rhino populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1970. South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to 668 in 2012.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and thanked the U.S. Attorneys Offices in the Eastern District of New York and the District of New Jersey for their assistance. The case is part of “Operation Crash” (named for the term used to describe a herd of rhinoceros) which is an ongoing multi-agency effort to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns. This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Richard A. Udell, a Senior Counsel with the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.