SCSU professor accused of smuggling rhino horn, elephant ivory

A St. Cloud State professor was arrested Tuesday for smuggling elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in and out of China and the United States using his in-home and online antiques business.

Yiwei Zheng, 42, is a philosophy professor at the University and was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents at a restaurant in St. Cloud on Tuesday morning. Zheng is a naturalized U.S. citizen and grew up in Shanghai, China. He has taught at St. Cloud State since 1999. He has been released from custody and appeared in federal court in St. Paul Tuesday afternoon. He faces several charges and each one carries a separate penalty.

According to an indictment, Zheng smuggled the ivory and horn from 2006 through about 2011 for sale by co-conspirators, knowing it was illegal. He is accused of participating in eBay auctions, mislabeling packages and failing to declare the items at Border Control and U.S. Customs.

Zheng's online biography his personal SCSU page identifies him as an authority on Chinese charms, according to a search warrant. The warrant added Zheng was operating a business out of his St. Cloud home called "Crouching Dragon Antiques," and its website listed 5 ivory items for sale in 2011 ranging from $9,875 to $1,250 (but two were not listed.)

Zheng also told special agents that he sold two rhinoceros horns to a Chinese national named Mr. Zhang at a McDonald's in St. Cloud, but he had actually exported them to a co-conspirator in China, the indictment said.

Elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn have been internationally regulated since 1976. They are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES), and it is illegal to export an animal species listed under CITIES from the U.S. without approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and without the required permits depending upon which Appendix the species is protected under.

Illegal wildlife is one of the world's largest trades of contraband, the New York Times reported, and it brings in an estimated $19 billion a year, illegal fisheries and timber not included. The value of Zheng's imports and exports was not included in the indictment.
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