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Chinese man gets 70 months in prison for smuggling ivory

NEWARK N.J. (Reuters) - A Chinese antiques dealer was sentenced to 70 months in prison on Tuesday as the ringleader of a crew that smuggled rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory artifacts from the United States to China.

The sentence imposed on Zhifei Li, 30, in U.S. District Court for smuggling more than $4.5 million in goods is one of the longest in the United States for wildlife smuggling.

Li, the owner of a firm called Overseas Treasure Finding in Shandong, China, admitted that he led three antiques dealers in the United States who helped him smuggle the items.

Li was arrested in January 2013, after he bought two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros from an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in a Miami Beach, Florida, hotel for $59,000.

The sting was part of a crackdown on wildlife smuggling with the Department of Justice. Li's crew smuggled 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory to China.

Li had pleaded guilty to 11 related counts, including seven counts of smuggling.

Li was transferred to New Jersey in 2013. The 70-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Esther Salas was the minimum under federal guidelines.

Li must serve two years of supervised release and forfeit $3.5 million in proceeds. He agreed to be returned to China voluntarily, his lawyers said.

Qiang Wang, a New York dealer working with Li, was sentenced to 37 months in prison in December.

(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by David Gregorio)

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