Operation Crash Sends U.S. Businessmen to Jail for Rhino Horn Trafficking
May 16, 2013
Seized Assets to Pay for Conservation of Species in Crisis
The sentencing yesterday of two California businessmen in Los Angeles for trafficking in rhino horn will send both to prison and ensure that $800,000 of their illegally acquired “profits” end up helping protect rhinos in Africa.
Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha and Felix Kha, who pleaded guilty in September 2012 to federal felony charges brought as a result of Operation Crash (an ongoing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of rhino horn trafficking), were ordered to spend 42 and 46 months in prison; pay $20,000 in criminal fines (plus $100,000 from Jimmy Kha’s company) and $185,000 in tax fraud penalties and assessments; and forfeit seized rhino horns and other assets to the Government. These assets include $800,000 in cash, gold, jewelry and precious stones that will be turned over to the Service-managed Multinational Species Conservation Fund to support on-the-ground rhino conservation efforts in Africa.
“Rhinos in Africa are being poached to the brink of extinction because of the demand for rhino horn,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “It’s only fitting that the ill-gotten gains of rhino horn traffickers be used to protect those animals that remain in the wild.”
A number of U.S. wildlife protection laws funnel criminal fine money into accounts that support the enforcement of those statutes, and federal judges in wildlife cases sometimes direct “community service” or restitution payments be made to conservation organizations. But money and other cash assets forfeited as a result of federal criminal investigations typically end up in the General Treasury, supporting overall government operations.
“The special agents and federal prosecutors supporting Operation Crash worked hard not only to bring these defendants to justice, but also to make sure the international effort to conserve rhinos received this extra financial boost,” Ashe said. “The money from this investigation more than doubles the amount typically distributed from the Multinational Species Fund in grants each year to support efforts by African nations to protect rhinos.”
The Khas, whose Federal rap sheets now include conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering and tax evasion, as well as felony Lacey Act violations, are among 14 defendants across the country arrested to date in Operation Crash, which has exposed large-scale trafficking in rhino horn in the United States to feed markets in Vietnam and other Asian countries. With rhino horn reportedly selling for as much as $60,000 to $65,000 per kilogram in Asia (approximately $29,500 per pound), poaching has reached unprecedented levels in Africa. In 2012, 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone (home to the largest remaining populations of the species), a number that stood at fewer than 20 per year just five years ago.
The Multinational Species Conservation Fund was created by Congress to provide grant money to support conservation of rhinos, tigers and other highly endangered species in the wild. Specifically, grants for rhino conservation in Africa have been used over the years to strengthen protections for rhinos, conduct surveys of populations and habitat, develop management capacity, carry out environmental education and awareness campaigns, involve local communities in conservation activities, and develop alternative livelihoods to discourage poaching as an “economic” activity. The Fund now provides about $700,000 each year for rhino conservation efforts in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa, much of them targeting anti-poaching efforts.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.
– FWS –