Canadian Antiques Dealer Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Attempted Wildlife Smuggling
Xiao Ju Guan, aka Tony Guan, a Canadian antiques dealer, pleaded guilty today in Manhattan federal court to attempting to smuggle rhinoceros horns from New York to Canada, announced Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Guan was arrested in March 2014 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling and attempting to smuggle rhinoceros horns as well as items carved from elephant ivory and coral, from auction houses throughout the United States to Canada. He pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain.
“The United States will aggressively prosecute anyone who illegally traffics in endangered wildlife species, in whatever form,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “Rhinos and elephants are not antiques, as the president of an antique company engaged in international trade should know. These are iconic animals of pre-historic origin, fighting for their very survival as a species. The illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory and the escalation of black-market prices are directly related to horrific poaching on living animals. Guan has admitted to smuggling rhino horn and elephant ivory across international borders. The United States is grateful for the Canadian authorities’ coordination and assistance in bringing this wildlife trafficker to justice.”
“Because all species of rhinos are endangered, and elephant populations are either vulnerable or endangered, the trade in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory is stringently limited,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “The survival of these magnificent animals depends in large part on enforcement of laws and international treaties governing such trade. Tony Guan’s admitted conduct increased the existential threat to these creatures, and now he awaits the penalty for that conduct.”
According to the information, plea agreement, and statements made during court proceedings:
Guan, the president and owner of an antiques business in Richmond, British Columbia, was arrested on March 29, 2014, after flying from Vancouver to New York and purchasing two endangered black rhinoceros horns from undercover special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a storage facility in the Bronx. After purchasing the horns, Guan had the undercover agents drive him and a female accomplice acting as his interpreter to a nearby express mail store where he mailed the horns to an address in Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the Canadian border and 17 miles from his business. Guan falsely labeled the box of black rhino horns as containing “handicrafts.” Guan indicated that he had people who could drive the horns across the border and that he had done so many times before.
As part of his plea, Guan admitted that he, and others acting at his direction, smuggled more than $400,000 of rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from various U.S. auction houses to Canada by the same method, or by having packages mailed directly to Canada with false paperwork and without the required declaration or permits.
Guan, 39, of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, pled guilty to one count of attempted smuggling, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on March 13 2015. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. As part of his plea, Guan agreed to forfeit items recovered from a search of his antiques business in Canada, and also agreed that he will not participate in any further trade, purchase, or sale of wildlife in the United States.
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 U.S. and international law. 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 over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.
Operation Crash is a continuing investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice are in charge of the prosecution.