A British Columbia man pleaded guilty this week to trying to smuggle rhinoceros horns through a Point Roberts mailbox service.
Xiao Ju Guan, 39, ran a business called Bao Antiques in Richmond, B.C., about a 30-minute drive north of Point Roberts. In May, one of Guan’s business partners wired $1,000 in U.S. currency from Canada to New York as a down payment on two black rhinoceros horns, valued at $25,000 per pound, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. The wire’s comment line said the money was “for a watch.”
The dealer, however, turned out to be an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal agents had been monitoring Guan, aka Tony Guan, since his name was tied to another black market rhinoceros horn purchase from an Ohio dealer in December 2012.
Guan later admitted he had, in less than two years, smuggled “dozens of wildlife items containing rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral,” worth more than $400,000. Horns of endangered rhinos have a thriving black market in China and Southeast Asian countries, according to a federal indictment. In spite of international bans and tight regulations, they’re used for ornamental carvings and in medicinal powders that are falsely advertised as cure-alls. U.S. authorities have been cracking down on trafficking of the horns in recent years as part of what’s called “Operation Crash.” (“Crash” is the word for a herd of rhinos.)
Guan agreed to pay $45,000 for the two horns. The agent told him over email that this rhino had been killed in Africa in the 1970s. The agents sent photos. They looked “great,” Guan reportedly said.
Guan boarded a flight for New York to pick up the horns on May 29. The undercover agent drove him to a mail store in Manhattan so he could send the goods to a mailbox service in Point Roberts. Guan labeled the package “Handicrafts.”
Someone could drive the horns across the border from Washington to Canada for him, he told the agent, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Guan was arrested that day in New York. He pleaded guilty Tuesday, Nov. 25, to one count of attempted smuggling. In the plea deal he admitted he smuggled, or ordered others to smuggle, elephant ivory and coral from the United States into Canada without proper customs papers. He’s no longer allowed to trade in wildlife items in the U.S., and he forfeits items recovered in a search of his antiques business.
Guan’s sentencing hearing in federal court has been set for March 13, 2015. He faces up to 10 years in prison.