Head of Wildlife Smuggling Ring, Guan Zong Chen, Pleads Guilty In Federal Court

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Australian citizen, Guan Zong Chen, also known as Graham Chen, pleaded guilty last week in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, on charges that he led a conspiracy to illegally export, often referred to as smuggle, $700,000 worth of endangered and protected wildlife parts made from rhino horn, elephant ivory and coral, from the United States to China.

According to the Justice Department, Chen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to export protected wildlife from the U.S., and submitted and made false wildlife documents that were exported; one count of false wildlife records; and six counts of smuggling protected wildlife items without declaration and required permits.

“This defendant openly flouted U.S. and international law designed to protect wildlife,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb. “Falsely labeling shipments and willfully failing to declare them, and obtain required permits, are serious crimes that will be fully investigated and prosecuted.”

Sentencing will take place on December 13th, 2017. The maximum sentence for conspiracy and violation of the Lacey Act is five years imprisonment, and a fine of up to $250,000, or half the gross gain of the offense per count. Smuggling carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, or half the gross gain of the offense per count.

Chen has been arrested numerous times including in 2009 for trafficking ivory carvings purchased in the United States and sent to China.

Unable to travel outside of China due to his conviction, Chen continued to traffic wildlife by procuring the help of others to smuggle wildlife merchandise to China that he purchased at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas.

Chen was aided by Jin Jie Yang, a Chinese national, and Carla Marsh, who owned a shipping business in Concord, Mass.

In 2014, after serving his sentence in China, Chen traveled to the United States and visited Carla Marsh in Concord, Massachusetts. During the visit, Chen instructed that a sculpture made from elephant ivory be mailed to him in Hong Kong. It was falsely declared as wood and worth only $50. The conspiracy also involved the purchase and smuggling of a rhinoceros horn libation cup from a New York auction house that was packed inside a porcelain vase and exported without required declaration or permits. Chen also admitted as part of the guilty plea that he had twice purchased raw rhino horn from an individual associated with an auction house in Beverly Hills, California.

Both Yang and Marsh faced federal charges in U.S. District Court in Boston. In December 2014, Yang pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and was sentenced in May 2015 to time-served.  Marsh pleaded guilty in May 2015 and was sentenced to one year of probation in April 2016.

Most recently, Chen was apprehended as part of Operation Crash, an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing and trafficking of protected species including rhinos and elephants.

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