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Thursday, December 17, 2015

San Francisco Art Dealer Sentenced for Trying to Sell Black Rhino Horns

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge GMACFADYEN/FLICKR
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Last year, in a Las Vegas hotel room, a San Francisco art dealer named Lumsden Quan met with a wildlife collector from Colorado. The meeting was supposed to be brief and lucrative: Quan was looking to offload a pair of Black Rhinoceros horns for $55,000. The Colorado collector was interested. 

As luck would have it, the wildlife collector was actually an undercover agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the meeting was part of a coordinated sting dubbed Operation Crash. (A crash is a herd of rhinos.)

Quan was arrested and pled guilty to conspiring to violate the federal Endangered Species Act. He also pled guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a conservation law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been taken illegally.

As Bay City News reports, Quan was sentenced yesterday to one year and two days in prison, and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. He’s also banned from working in the art and antique business for three years, and will remain on supervised release for three years after completing his sentence. 

According to National Geographic, which reported on the indictment last year, Quan also had a partner in crime: 63-year-old Edward Levine of Mill Valley, who was reportedly indicted in Florida in 1989 for his involvement in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel (the subject of the recent Netflix series Narcos).

As Nat Geo noted, narcotics trafficking and the illegal wildlife trade have long been intertwined. (Nat Geo recalls the clever South American trick of stuffing cocaine-filled condoms into boa constrictors bound for Miami pet stores; the snakes arrived dead.)

Levine is scheduled to stand trial on March 7, Bay City News reports.

The Black Rhino is an endangered species, often targeted by poachers in eastern and central Africa. This summer — shortly after Quan and Levine pled guilty — a debate over the rhino’s significance in Asian culture erupted in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Spice shops and stores catering to tourists were allegedly hawking rhino horns and ivory tusks, both of which have played a role in ancient Asian medicinal customs.

As The Guardian reported:

Although rhino horns do not have any medical benefit, nor do they act as an aphrodisiac, some traditional Asian doctors believe they can help treat fever, rheumatism, gout and other disorders. Chinese medical texts from the 16th and 17th century, including Li Shih-chen’s 1597 text Pen Ts, allude to the healing power of the horn, which is ground up to make a fine powder to treat an assortment of minor ailments. 

Operation Crash, the undercover dragnet that exposed Quan and Levine, has prosecuted more than 20 people so far, according to Bay City News.

Yesterday’s sentencing “demonstrates that the United States takes wildlife trafficking very seriously and we will do everything possible to identify and disrupt smuggling operations and hold perpetrators responsible,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement.


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Jeremy Lybarger

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