(CN) - Three Chinese businessmen were arrested this week in Newark, Miami and New York City, and charged with smuggling endangered rhinoceros horn, federal prosecutors said.
Federal grand juries indicted Shusen Wei, 44; Zhifei Li, 28; and Qing Wang, all of China.
All species of rhinos are protected, and black rhinos are particularly endangered.
All the defendants are accused of smuggling rhinoceros horn "libation cups" and other carvings, including black rhino horn.
Wei also is accused of trying to bribe a federal agent in smuggling the rhino horns to Li.
Li conspired to smuggle more than 20 raw rhinoceros horns from the United States to Hong Kong, according to the federal indictment in Newark.
"Li wired hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least a year to a co-conspirator in the United States to fund purchases of rhinoceros horns," the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan said in a statement. "Li's co-conspirator smuggled the rhino horns in porcelain vases and mailed them to Hong Kong and China to a person other than Li, in an effort to evade detection by U.S. officials. Li and his co-conspirator bought many of the horns in New Jersey from other members of the conspiracy. Li was arrested in January on charges previously filed in New Jersey."
Li indicted again this week in Miami. Prosecutors said he bought two endangered black rhinoceros horns from an undercover U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agent in a Miami Beach hotel room for $59,000 in January this year. He asked the agent to get more rhino horns and mail them to his company in Hong Kong, prosecutors said.
Shusen Wei, who shared a hotel room with Li in Miami, admitted he knew about the smuggling and that he bought rhinoceros carvings from Li, according to the U.S. attorney. He is accused of trying to bribe a federal official with $10,000.
Some Chinese people believe that drinking from rhinoceros horn cups with bring good health. The giant, prehistoric beasts are protected by U.S. and international laws. More than 90 percent of wild rhino populations have been slaughtered illegally since the 1970s, because of the price their horns can bring, according to the U.S. attorney.
"South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to more than 618 in 2012," prosecutors said in the statement.
The only predator of the rhinoceros is humans.