UNITED STATES – Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John C. Cruden, the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Dan Ashe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director, announced that XIAO JU GUAN, a/k/a “Tony Guan,” 39, of Richmond, British Columbia, was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 30 months in prison for smuggling rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory, and coral from the United States to Canada. In addition to the prison term, Judge Swain ordered Guan to forfeit wildlife items found during a search of his Canadian antiques business.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Trafficking in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory poses a literally existential threat to these endangered or vulnerable species, who die a cruel, pointless death due to greed. These living creatures are not among us as a source of wanton plunder. Without strict enforcement of international agreements and U.S. laws, these extraordinary animals may disappear from the face of the earth. Tony Guan has learned the price of putting profit over the prolonged existence of rhinos and elephants.”
Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said: “Wildlife smuggling is a transnational crime that knows no borders and requires an international response. Cooperation between the United States and Canadian law enforcement was crucial to cracking this case. The United States greatly appreciates the assistance of Environment Canada in bringing Guan to justice. International law enforcement collaboration is essential if we are to prevent elephant and rhino species from being extinguished in our own lifetime.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said: “The illegal trade in rhinoceros horn is the number one threat to many populations of African rhinos, and is driving the species towards extinction. The wholesale slaughter of these magnificent animals in the wild is taking place so a few callous individuals can line their own pockets. But global law enforcement cooperation through avenues such as the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Operation Crash is bringing people like Guan to justice, and we thank our Canadian and other international partners for the critical role they play in cases such as this. Together we will end the scourge of rhino horn and other wildlife trafficking.”
“The successful outcome of this investigation, and the ongoing success of Operation Crash, is another example of the strong collaboration that exists between Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our partners in conservation enforcement agencies across Canada and the United States,” said Gord Owen, Chief Enforcement Officer, Environment Canada.
Calling it “a very serious offense,” Judge Swain said that Guan “helped to feed a hot market for these goods” and further stated that the defendant’s conduct “feeds demand for the slaughter of rare and already endangered species.”
According to the Indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today’s sentencing:
GUAN was arrested in March 2014 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide crackdown on the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for GUAN’s 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.
GUAN, the president and owner of Bao Antiques in Richmond, British Columbia, was arrested 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 rhinoceros 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.
At the same time GUAN was arrested in the United States, Canadian authorities executed a search warrant at his antique business in Richmond, B.C. Canadian law enforcement officers seized various wildlife objects from the business, nine of which have been positively identified as wildlife objects purchased in the U.S. via a Manhattan-based internet auction business. These items, made from elephant ivory and coral, were smuggled out of the U.S. and into Canada without the required declaration or permits under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”). Some were shipped directly to Canada and others were sent, at GUAN’s direction, to addresses near the U.S./Canadian border in Point Roberts, Washington. GUAN also recruited college-age family members and acquaintances to assist him with smuggling the wildlife items. Photos of some of the smuggled wildlife artifacts are enclosed. In addition, during the search of GUAN’s business, Canadian law enforcement also discovered illegal narcotics, including approximately 50,000 ecstasy pills.
The rhinoceros is 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 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. Rhinoceros are also protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act which further regulates trade and transport.
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.
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Mr. Bharara commended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its outstanding work in this investigation. He also thanked the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Directorate.
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.