A woman who participated in a Garden Grove-based scheme to illegally trade in endangered South African black rhinoceros horns was sentenced Monday to three years of probation that includes a year of home detention.
Nhu Mai Nguyen, 49, formerly of the San Bernardino County city of Highland, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to pay a $2,000 fine and participate in counseling for gambling addiction during the period of probation.
Nguyen agreed to forfeit 100 gold bars seized from her safe deposit box.
Nguyen is among five defendants who pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court since 2012 to their roles in the smuggling conspiracy, which generated millions of dollars in profits, as well as money to purchase more contraband rhinoceros horns and pay bribes to customs officials in at least one other nation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to court papers, Nguyen received packages of rhino horns at a nail salon she formerly operated and transferred them to her former boyfriend, Jimmy Kha, knowing that the packages contained the horns of endangered animals. The horns were eventually shipped to China and her native Vietnam.
“I know that what I’ve done is wrong,” Nguyen told the judge through a translator, asking for home detention “if your honor would forgive me for what I did.”
In some Asian countries, where it sells for about $1,400 an ounce, powdered rhino horn is rumored to cure cancer, improve general health and prevent illness. It is also used to treat dozens of ailments, including hangovers, according to Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
Father and son Jimmy and Felix Kha, both of Garden Grove, each admitted in 2012 to purchasing white and black rhinoceros horn in interstate and intrastate commerce, knowing that the animals were protected by federal law as endangered and threatened species. Both defendants stated that they purchased the horns in order to export them overseas to be sold and made into libation cups or traditional medicine.
Both acknowledged making payments to Vietnamese customs officials to ensure clearance of horn shipments sent to that country. In addition, the Khas each admitted to failing to pay income tax owed in 2009 and 2010.
In May 2013, Snyder sentenced Jimmy and Felix Kha to 42 and 46 months in prison, respectively.
At the peak of the scheme in 2011, 448 wild rhinos had been slaughtered for their horns in South Africa alone, prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Illegal trafficking in wildlife has been ranked as the fourth most valuable illicit economy in the world, behind narcotics, guns and human trafficking, and is estimated to be worth several billion dollars a year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.