Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Federal Prison Time and Loss of Cash for Rhino Horn Traders

Richard O’Brien and Michael Hegarty, Irish nationals from
Rathkeale, Ireland, were sentenced recently to 6 months in prison
for their role in an attempt to illegally export 4 Black Rhinoceros
horns – a protected endangered species – the U.S. Attorney’s Office
announced. Along with the prison sentence, O’Brien and Hegarty were
also sentenced to 3 years of supervised release and the forfeiture
of approximately $17,600.

Richard O’Brien and Michael Hegarty pleaded guilty on May 3,
2011, to a federal charge of Smuggling Goods from the United States
in connection with their purchase, from an undercover officer, of
endangered rhino horns, a species of wildlife having the highest
protection under the CITES Treaty (Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Spcies of Wild Fauna and Flora).

On November 13, 2010, O’Brien and Hegarty met with an undercover
Fish and Wildlife Service agent in Commerce City, Colorado, and
purchased four rhino horns for 12,850 Euros (approximately $17,600
U.S.). After assuring the agent they (O’Brien and Hegarty) would
not get caught removing the horns from the United States, O’Brien
and Hegarty took possession of the horns, placed them in their
rental car, and were arrested before leaving the area. In an
earlier meeting with the undercover agent, O’Brien and Hegarty
indicated their understanding that rhino horns could not lawfully
be purchased in interstate or foreign commerce but stated any rhino
horns would be shipped to Ireland concealed within furniture to
avoid detection. Upon arrest, O’Brien and Hegarty told agents they
intended to deliver the horns and some antique furniture items to
an antique store so their co-conspirator John Sullivan could
arrange onward shipment to Ireland. A search of the rental car
revealed passports, luggage, a chest of drawers, four large packing
boxes and shrink wrap that agents suspect might have been intended
to pack the rhino horns.

A complaint was filed and ultimately the two arrested Irish
nationals were indicted in Denver on November 29, 2010, along with
John Sullivan, for their criminal activity of Conspiracy, Smuggling
Goods from the United States, and Money Laundering.

“The illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns fuels the dangerous
poaching situations we see in Africa, and that poaching has
contributed to most species of rhino being listed as endangered. We
will continue to pursue investigations into the unlawful
trafficking in imperiled wildlife, and we’re pleased that these men
were held accountable for their crimes”, said Steve Oberholtzer,
Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We
hope these sentences serve as a deterrent to others involved in
this unlawful trade.”

“The world does not have an infinite supply of wildlife like the
rhinos at issue in this case,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “The
prison term in this case for trading in rhino horns underscores the
fact that we here in the United States are resolved to do our part
to protect the shared worldwide inheritance these magnificent
animals represent.”

There are five species of rhinoceros. The rhino horns in this
case are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species
Act. Additionally, they are protected by CITES, a multilateral
treaty of which the United States and the Republic of Ireland and
173 other countries are parties. Exportation of rhinoceros horns
from the United States for commercial purposes is strictly
prohibited by CITES and U.S. law.

The illegal rhino horn trade has serious consequences for the
wildlife resource and contributes to the poaching of rhinoceros.
The popular demand for rhinoceros in Asian countries has increased
in recent years because of a widely believed but false rumor that
ground rhino horn can cure cancer. This has spiked the pricing for
rhino horns with the current pricing around $20,000 per pound. This
prosecution is the result of an investigation conducted by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, led by Agents George Morrison and Curtis
Graves.

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