Columbian Cartel Drug Smuggler Turned Wildlife Trafficker Convicted by Nevada Jury

Edward Levine, from California, was found guilty following a trial by jury in a federal courtroom in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Levine, who in the 1980s had been indicted and served time in prison for being involved with Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar to smuggle cocaine into the United States, was convicted for selling horns from black rhinos.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the horns are sold for high prices and used for libation cups, ornamental carvings, and alleged Asian medicinal purposes.

Between 1970 and 1992 rhino populations declined by more than 90% in Africa, and by 1992 only 2,000 rhinos survived in 7 countries.  All five species of rhinos are endangered.

“We have charged about 60 subjects from Operation Crash and have convicted those that pled guilty,” said Tim Santel, Special Investigations Unit supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   “This was the first case to go to trial in front of a jury.”

Operation Crash, a six-year undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Special Investigation Unit, has resulted in the conviction of more than 32 people of illegally trafficking rhinoceros horns from Africa. The investigation and arrests involved more than 140 law enforcement officers executing search warrants in 13 States.  Successes in 2013 included the arrests and indictments of several other individuals (including Chinese and U.S. antiques dealers) who were operating a second large-scale rhino horn and elephant ivory smuggling network.

Out of all of the investigations in Operation Crash that resulted in admissions of guilt or plea bargains, Levine's has been the only trial.

If there is ever any doubt regarding legal charges, when a case goes in front of a jury that is the defense attorney’s opportunity to bring out any doubts or questions, and the finding of guilt by a jury provides satisfaction for those involved in long hours of investigations.

Levine was found guilty of violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, which dates back to the early 1900s to protect wildlife in the United States and prohibit the sale and movement of illegal wildlife across state lines.

For many years, crimes involving wildlife were not treated as serious crimes, but they are involved in a lucrative business tied to organized crime and have led to dwindling populations of many species of wildlife, including african elephants and rhinos. 

Wildlife authorities, in the United States and in Africa, hope that these arrests and convictions will send a strong message that there will be a price to pay for those who are profiting from trafficking in rhino horns and elephant tusks.