March 25, 2015 / 6:39 PM / 2 years ago

Canadian gets 2-1/2-year sentence in rhino horn smuggling case

(Reuters) - A Canadian antiques dealer was sentenced to two and a half years in a U.S. prison on Wednesday for trying to export black rhinoceros horns that he purchased in New York from undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents.

The sentence, handed down by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan, was significantly more than the 10 months of time served sought by attorneys for Xiao Ju “Tony” Guan, but a modest reduction from the three years and one month called for by prosecutors and federal sentencing guidelines.

Guan, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter just before being sentenced, pleaded for lenience, saying he had already lost his business and was cut off from his family in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

“I will never make the same mistake again,” he said.

Swain said she had considered Guan’s apparent remorse, as well as the “increased harshness” of the time he has already served in New York, where he is unable to communicate with guards or other inmates because of his language barrier. She recommended he be transferred to a U.S. prison near British Columbia so that his family can visit him.

However, Swain said a lengthy custodial sentence was warranted by the seriousness of his crime.

“There is a significant crisis situation of endangered species poaching,” she said, adding that Guan “helped feed a hot market for these goods.”

Guan pleaded guilty to attempted smuggling in November.

He was arrested in March after flying to New York to buy two black rhinoceros horns for $45,000 from undercover Fish and Wildlife special agents, and then arranging to ship them to Point Roberts, Washington, near the Canadian border.

Guan labeled a box containing the horns as “handicrafts” worth just $200.

He was indicted in July and charged with conspiracy to smuggle rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from various U.S. auction houses to Canada. He pleaded guilty only to trying to smuggle the rhino horns.

Though the conspiracy charge was dropped, Swain ruled that Guan’s admitted enlistment of others in his operation, including his nephew, warranted a longer sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Paul Simao

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