California residents Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha and Felix Kha have pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, smuggling, Lacey Act violations, money laundering and tax fraud for their roles in the international illegal trafficking of rhino horn.
The pair was arrested in February 2012 as part of “Operation Crash”, a multi-agency crackdown on the illegal rhino horn trade in the United States, which dismantled a ring of criminals who were smuggling rhino horn to China and Vietnam.
“The Khas conspired to violate numerous federal laws, including those enacted by Congress to protect endangered species like the rhinoceros, a species that faces extinction in our time,” said Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno.
Both defendants stated that they purchased the horns in order to export them overseas to be sold and made into libation cups or traditional medicine. Both acknowledged making payments to Vietnamese customs officials to ensure clearance of horn shipments sent to that country. In addition, Jimmy and Felix Kha each admitted to failing to pay income tax owed in 2009 and 2010.
Win Lee Corp., owned by Jimmy Kha, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of smuggling and Lacey Act trafficking and faces fines up to $1 million.
Jimmy and Felix Kha each pleaded guilty to:
- One count of conspiracy — maximum penalty of five years in prison
- One count of smuggling goods from the United States — maximum penalty of ten years in prison
- One count of Lacey Act trafficking — maximum penalty of five years in prison
- One count of money laundering — maximum penalty of twenty years in prison
- One count of tax evasion — maximum penalty of five years in prison
The Khas admitted to failing to pay income tax for 2009 and 2010. Felix Kha will pay a tax fraud penalty and assessment of approximately $109,000, and Jimmy Kha will pay a tax fraud penalty and assessment of $76,000.
Jimmy and Felix Kha are scheduled to be sentenced on December 10th, 2012.
Jin Zhao Feng, of China, and Jarrod Wade Steffen, of Hico, Texas — both linked to the Khas — previously pleaded guilty to federal charges in Los Angeles related to rhino horn trafficking.
Feng, who was arrested at LAX upon his arrival on a flight from China, allegedly oversaw the shipment of dozens of rhino horns from the United States to China. He obtained a black rhinoceros horn from the Khas, which he concealed in a package and attempted to mail to China.
Feng falsely declared on a U.S. Postal Service Customs Declaration that the package contained “handcraft decorations” with a value of $25, “chocolate” with a value of $46, and “candy” with a value of $15.
Feng will be sentenced on October 10th, 2012.
Jarrod Wade Steffen bought and mailed dozens of rhino horns to the Khas, and made at least 10 trips to California to pick up payment and collect money for additional purchases. Steffen is a former rodeo star and 2010 co-champion at the All-American ProRodeo Finals in Waco, Texas. He has not competed in the rodeo circuit since 2011, after he was attacked by a camel.
Steffen will be sentenced on October 15th, 2012.
Manhattan antiques dealer David Hausman, who was also arrested during the investigation, entered a guilty plea earlier this year. Hausman admitted in the plea agreement that he was engaging in criminal acts while pretending to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as an antiques expert.
Hausman will be sentenced on December 5th, 2012.
“These individuals were interested in one thing and one thing only – making money,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “They didn’t care about the law or about driving a species to the brink of extinction. We will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue traffickers who threaten the future of rhinos and other imperiled species.”
Learn more about “Operation Crash” and what the United States is doing to protect rhinos around the world in our exclusive Behind the Schemes interview with Sal Amato, Special Agent in Charge, USFWS Northeast Region:
You can also listen to the USFWS interview as a podcast on iTunes.
Photo: Karl Stromayer/USFWS
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by Rhishja Cota-Larson