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Wildlife Trafficker Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison

Edward N. Levine, 67, a resident of Novato, California, was sentenced today to 27 months in prison and followed by three years of supervised release for the sale of two black rhinoceros horns in Las Vegas. Levine will also be prohibited from wildlife and antique sales as a result of today’s sentencing.

A jury convicted Levine on September 14, 2017, of conspiracy to violate the Lacey and Endangered Species Acts and a substantive violation of the Lacey Act for knowingly selling the horns to an undercover agent from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). His co-defendant, Lumsden Quan, had previously pleaded guilty to the indictment and was sentenced in December 2015 to 367 days of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

The sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson for the District of Nevada, and Acting Chief of Law Enforcement Edward Grace for USFWS.

The Honorable Chief Judge Gloria M. Navarro in U.S. district court in Las Vegas sentenced Levine for his role in the conspiracy, which involved negotiating the sale and transporting the horns from California to Nevada in March 2014. Levine and Quan ultimately sold the horns to an undercover agent posing as a taxidermist for $55,000 in a Las Vegas casino hotel room. Levine had faced a maximum of five years imprisonment for violating the Lacey Act.

“Complex international investigations such as Operation Crash have demonstrated the link between wildlife trafficking and criminal organizations also involved in other serious transnational organized crimes including trafficking of illegal firearms and drugs,” said Acting Chief of Law Enforcement Edward Grace for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Mr. Levine not only illegally bought and sold horns from critically endangered black rhinos; he was previously convicted and served time for his role in drug trafficking with South American drug cartel.”

Levine was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns. As of October 2017, Operation Crash has resulted in the prosecution and sentencing of nearly 50 subjects and recovery of approximately $7.8 million through fines, forfeiture, and restitution. Levine was the only Operation Crash target to proceed to trial.

The black rhinoceros is an herbivore species native to Africa of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 183 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

The investigation was handled by the USFWS’s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada, and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Trial Attorney Ryan Connors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Newman, and paralegals Christopher Kopf and Amanda Backer.