An Irish man who smuggled a cup made from a protected rhinoceros horn inside his luggage on a flight from Miami to London was sentenced to 14 months in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
Richard Sheridan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to trafficking an artifact made from the horn of a protected rhinoceros, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Sheridan, who was extradited to the United States from the United Kingdom in August, will be under two years of supervised release after serving his sentence.
“For our critically endangered wildlife, every case that serves to deter their illegal poaching and trafficking in their artifacts is important to the global effort to preserve these iconic specimens for our children and the generations to come,” said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida.
All five species of rhinos still surviving in the wild are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Very few rhinos survive outside of national parks and reserves as persistent poaching and habitat loss has decimated populations over the past decades. Demand for rhino horns is strong on the global black market as they are used in Asian medicines that promise to treat everything from rheumatism to cancer. Two species of rhino in Asia — Javan and Sumatran — are critically endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011.
Sheridan was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2012 as part of Operation Crash, an ongoing nationwide criminal investigation led by the Office of Law Enforcement at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The effort focuses on the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory and targets international poaching and smuggling schemes.
In late April 2012, Sheridan and Michael Hegarty, another Irish national, purchased the libation cup — a drinking vessel used in religious ceremonies — at an auction house in Rockingham, N.C., according to court documents. Sheridan bid $57,500 for the cup, listed at the auction house as a “Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Chilong Libation Cup,” the documents said.
The duo received the item a few days later at an address in Florida, and then traveled to London where they intended to have a small flaw on the cup fixed before they could resell it for a profit, according to the documents. About a month later, Sheridan was arrested by the London police in Wandsworth, London, while attempting to sell the cup to a Hong Kong native, authorities said.
Shortly after, Hegarty was arrested in Belgium. He was then extradited to the United States and pleaded guilty to conspiring with Sheridan to traffic in the libation cup. In November 2017, Hegarty was sentenced in federal court in Miami to 18 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release.
Sheridan’s lawyer, Manuel Gonzalez Jr., didn’t reply to requests for comment.