The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Federal wildlife investigators have broken up an international smuggling ring that trafficked in sawed-off rhinoceros horns for buyers in Vietnam and China who believe they cure cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
More than 150 federal agents led raids into homes and businesses in several states over the weekend, according to the Times (http://lat.ms/w5x5no
Three of the alleged traffickers caught in Southern California were 49-year-old Jimmy Kha, his 41-year-old girlfriend Mai Nguyen and Kha's 26-year-old son Felix. Each faces four counts of rhino horn trafficking in violation of federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.
"By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the U.S. and globally," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the Times.
More than $1 million in cash, $1 million in gold bars, diamonds and Rolex watches, along with 20 rhino horns, were seized in the raids.
Most of the horns end up in Vietnam, or sometimes China, where there's a misconception that they can cure cancer, said Crawford Allan, North American director of TRAFFIC, a World Wildlife Fund program that monitors wildlife trade.
The wildlife service did not immediately respond to an email request for comment sent late Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The arrests and seizures resulted from an 18-month investigation, said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the wildlife service.
The undercover operation was forced into the open when accused trafficker Wade Steffen of Hico, Texas, and his wife and mother were found with $337,000 in their luggage at a Long Beach airport, authorities said.
During their investigation, wildlife officials said they intercepted at least 18 shipments of rhino horns from the Steffen family and the owner of a Missouri auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals, according to court records. Steffen was jailed in Texas; his wife and mother weren't arrested.
Information from: Los Angeles Times,