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2 plead guilty to illegal rhino horn trafficking

Posted: September 15, 2012 8:00 p.m.
Updated: September 15, 2012 8:00 p.m.
 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two Orange County men have pleaded guilty to trafficking up to $2.5 million worth of endangered rhinoceros horn.

Vinh Chung "Jimmy" Kha, 49, and Felix Kha, 26, were accused of international trafficking in a two-year smuggling operation. The Garden Grove men pleaded guilty to five felony counts related to smuggling white and black rhino horn between 2010 and 2012, the U.S. attorney's office said Friday.

Jimmy Kha's Westminster-based company, Win Lee Corp., also pleaded guilty to two felony counts.

They said they paid as much as $7,000 a pound for the horn and in turn sold it to buyers in China and Vietnam, where it is turned into special libation cups and is used in traditional medicine.

Rhino numbers have declined 90 percent over the past 40 years due to the high demand for their horns in Asian countries. Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service, said poachers, traders, and buyers are driving the rhino to extinction.

The Khas, and two other men involved in the scheme, were arrested as part of an operation formed to go after rhino horn traffickers.

The other two defendants, Jarrod Wade Steffen, 32, of Hico, Texas, and Jin Zhao Feng, 45, of China, last month pleaded guilty to their roles in the trafficking operation.

Prosecutors said Steffen was arrested at Long Beach International Airport carrying $337,000 in his luggage, payments from the Khas for horn he had provided and money to purchase future supplies.

When the Khas were arrested in February, federal agents seized $1 million in cash, $1 million worth of gold ingots and other valuables.

The Khas each face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for all counts. They must also pay tax fraud penalties of nearly $200,000 total, and the company faces fines of up to $1 million.

They are due to be sentenced in December. Feng and Steffen are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

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