"Operation Crash" Takes Down Black Rhino Horn Salesmen

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A federal grand jury in Los Vegas today issued indictments for two men accused of selling black rhinoceros horns in the U.S. The men were caught in a sting that was part of "Operation Crash," a nationwide investigation into the rhino horn trade led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Servie and the Justice Department.

Edward N. Levine and Lumsden W. Quan, both residents of California, have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and one count of violating the Lacey Act, the 1900 law that created criminal penalties for the sale of illegal plants and wildlife in the U.S.

Levine and Quan are alleged to have sold two black rhino horns via email and telephone conversations. The buyer was an undercover law enforcement agent who negotiated the sale of the horns for $55,000. The sale took place in a Las Vegas hotel room on March 18, 2004 and the men were arrested later that day.

The black rhinoceros, once widely seen throughout Africa, is now one of the most endangered species of rhinoceros. According to the International Rhino Foundation the African population of black rhinos was only 4,240 as of 2008. The Justice Department estimates that black rhino populations have decline by more that 90% since 1970, much of it due to the rhino horn trade. The trade of black rhino horn is regulated by the 1976 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora treaty.

This indictment is yet another wildlife-related case that the Justice Department has taken on during 2014.

In January a Queens, New York fish importer was convicted of smuggling nearly 40,000 piranhas into the U.S. and selling them to fish retailers for around $37,000.

In February a New Jersey man was convicted of smuggling 33 narwhal tusks worth an estimated $2.5 million from Canada. The man faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000.

Image via Yathin S Krishnappa/Wikimedia Commons

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