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Wildlife Trafficking Bust Results in Guilty Plea

A Chinese national admitted in Newark federal court on Thursday that he was the leader of an international smuggling ring responsible for transporting millions of dollars worth of rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory from the United States to China.

rhino horn
U.S. Attorney’s Office

Zhifei Li, 29, pleaded guilty to 11 counts that include illegal wildlife trafficking, conspiracy, making fake documents and smuggling. Each smuggling count carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

“Li, and the dealers who smuggled the items on his behalf, evaded detection at borders here and abroad by hiding the items in porcelain vases, by underdeclaring their value, and by falsely describing them on customs forms,” New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman told the media.

The smuggled materials were sold for a profit to buyers in China who paid upwards of $17,500 per pound. The materials would be carved into ornamental cups or ground into powder for what people believe to be medicinal purposes.

A confidential informant sold two rhino horns to a middleman at the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike two years ago, when investigators turned their focus on Li.

Li’s sentencing is currently scheduled for April.

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