New York antiques dealer Qiang Wang, aka Jeffrey Wang, was sentenced in federal court on December 5, 2013, to three years and one month in prison, followed by another three years of supervised release for conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhino horns and ivory.
Wang, who conducted business as Bau Qing Lou Gallery, Inc. in New York, was also ordered to forfeit “certain ivory goods in his possession” and is prohibited from participating in any future trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. He was arrested in February 2013 as a result of “Operation Crash”, an ongoing nationwide effort led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Justice Department to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.
Wang worked with two Chinese nationals to source Asian artifacts made from rhino horn and elephant ivory from auction houses and galleries in the United States for the purpose of smuggling these items to China. Wang sent these items using the U.S. Postal Service and express mail services. He made false customs declarations, and knowingly exported rhino horn and ivory without USFWS approval or valid CITES export permits.
In January 2011, Wang opened a bank account (Bao Qing Lou Gallery, Inc.) which he used to receive wire transfers from China, for purchasing rhino horn and ivory artifacts at antiques auctions. He placed the winning bid of $1,159,500 for three rhinoceros horn libation cups at a New York City auction house in September 2011. Using funds from wire transfers from China, Wang made payments toward the rhino horn cups, and picked up two of them in June 2012. Then in December 2012, Wang gave five ivory carvings to an associate, so they could be smuggled to Hong Kong.
“We’re reaching a tipping point, where the unprecedented slaughter of rhinos and elephants happening now threatens the viability of these iconic species’ wild populations in Africa,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
“This slaughter is fueled by illegal trade, including that exposed by Operation Crash. We will continue to work relentlessly across the United States government and with our international partners to crack down on poaching and wildlife trafficking.”
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District of New York handed down Qiang Wang’s sentence.
In May 2013, Vinh Chuong “Jimmy” Kha, and Felix Kha were sentenced to 42 and 46 months in prison for their involvement with a rhino horn trafficking ring operating in the United States. The Khas were arrested in February 2012.
The Khas must also pay a total of $20,000 in criminal fines and pay a $185,000 tax fraud penalty and assessment. as well as pay restitution to the Multinational Species Conservation Fund. Jimmy Kha’s Win Lee Corporation was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
It is worth noting that Qiang Wang is not the only antiques dealer implicated in Operation Crash.
In February 2013, Manhattan antiques dealer David Hausman was sentenced to six months in jail followed by one year of supervised release for his role in the trafficking of rhino horns in the United States. Hausman was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund and $18,000 to the Rhino Tiger Conservation Fund, along with a $200 special assessment fee. He pleaded guilty in July 2012 to the crimes of obstruction of justice and creating false records in violation of the Lacey Act.
Court documents further suggest that Jim Lolli of Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon, Missouri, has a connection to the defendants arrested in Operation Crash. According to a 55-page filing, Lolli has ties to Jimmy Kha and Felix Kha, who were sentenced in May 2013 to 42 and 46 months in prison for their involvement with a rhino horn trafficking ring operating in the United States.
Lolli received eight wire transfers totaling $66,000 from Felix Kha. In addition, the Lolli Brothers Livestock Special Sales account at the Atlanta State Bank received $121,512 in wire transfers from the Khas, and nearly $1 million in cash.
In 2011, a reporter from The Atlantic attended an auction at Lolli Brothers Livestock Market, where a pair of white rhinoceros horns was on display. Jim Lolli was quoted as saying, “The Orientals will buy them, but it’s illegal to export them, so you’ve really got to watch what you’re doing. I don’t know what they do with them.”
According to court documents, the U.S. government has produced more than 5,000 pages of discovery in the Operation Crash case.