(Reuters) - An Iowa taxidermist pleaded guilty to buying and selling black rhino horns in violation of U.S. laws protecting endangered species has been sentenced to 27 months in prison, court records show.
James Hess of Maquoketa, Iowa, will also have three years of supervised release after serving his prison term, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the sentence handed down on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Hess was involved in the purchase and resale of at least two sets of black rhino horns in 2011. An agreement between Hess and prosecutors put the value of the horns at between $200,000 and $400,000.
International crime syndicates often acquire rhino horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine and sell at prices higher than gold in Vietnam, where a belief, with no scientific basis, exists that they can cure cancer.
Poaching of rhinos has surged across Africa in recent years, especially in South Africa, which has more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population.
U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade sentenced Hess to the lower end of the guidelines range of 27 months to 33 months.
Hess pleaded guilty in May to one count of violating the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to buy or sell endangered species.
He was prosecuted as part of a multistate investigation into the illegal trafficking of rhinos and other endangered species, prosecutors said.
They said Hess arranged to acquire horns from an Oregon man in August 2011 and have them shipped to Iowa, where another man would transfer them to California. He also purchased black rhino horns in Illinois in April 2011, prosecutors said.
Hess was ordered to self-report to prison at a later date.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)