A Texas man pleaded guilty Tuesday in a smuggling operation that dealt in nearly $1 million worth of rhino horns and elephant ivory. Asian art appraiser Ning Qiu, of Frisco, took part in the operation, which was busted up in "Operation Crash".
The nationwide sting was led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to crack down on the black market for rhinoceros horns and other objects.
The smuggling operation, according to authorities, stretched from Texas to New Jersey to Hong Kong.
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"I am pleased that the Eastern District of Texas could be a part of the 'Operation Crash' investigation as well as the guilty plea today, and I congratulate the investigative team for a job well done," U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales of the Eastern District of Texas said in a statement. "The criminal activity undertaken by the defendant in this case is a stark reminder that this matter is not about serving Asian cultural and medicinal practices; it's about greed, organized crime and the depletion of a species that - without our focused efforts to fight this trade - may not be around for our children to see."
Qui, 43, pleaded guilty to being part of an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy. According to the Justice Department Qiu admitted to working at a Dallas auction house that specialized in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory carvings. Qui faces 25 months in prison and a $150,000 fine.
According to the Department of Justice:
Between 2009 and 2013, Qiu purchased and smuggled to Hong Kong at least five raw rhinoceros horns weighing at least 20 pounds. Qiu smuggled the raw rhino horns by first wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely describing them on customs and shipping documents, including by labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts.