CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CN) - A federal judge issued a 27-month prison sentence to an Iowa man who illegally bought and transported black rhino horns from Oregon.
James Hess, 39, a Maquoketa-based taxidermist, previously admitted to having contacted an individual in Oregon trying to sell a pair of black rhino horns online.
When Hess traveled to Oregon to get the horns, he told the seller he was reselling the horns to an individual living in Oregon, and he even showed the seller an Oregon driver's license that supposedly belonged to the buyer.
"In reality, that individual had no involvement in the deal," according to a statement from the Justice Department. "After getting the horns, Hess shipped them back to Iowa and then gave them to Wade Steffen, a Texas resident, who shipped the horns to California. Steffen gave Hess a portion of the profit Steffen expected to make from selling the horns in California.
Hess pleaded guilty in May to one count of trafficking endangered wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act.
Prosecutors emphasized that All species of black rhinoceros are endangered, and that it is illegal to traffic in black rhino horns across state lines.
Though rhinos know no natural predators, humans have caused populations of the prehistoric-age-originating herbivore to decline by more than 90 percent since 1970.
"South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching, rising from 13 in 2007 to 668 in 2012," the Justice Department notes.
Rhinoceros horns are very valuable on the black market because some cultures use them as good-luck charms or for ornamental or medicinal purposes.
The government calls its efforts to prosecute rhino horn smugglers Operation Crash, using the term for a herd of rhinoceros.
Chief U.S. District Judge Linda Reade sentenced Hess on Tuesday, chastising the defendant at the hearing for his "serious offense against the planet."
In addition to 27 months in federal prison, Hess faces a $100 special assessment and a three-year term of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.
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