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Former MN professor to pay $500K after smuggling ivory

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A former St. Cloud State University professor has been ordered to pay $500,000 after he admitted to illegally smuggling ivory.

Yiwei Zheng, also known as Steve Zheng, was charged last year for smuggling elephant ivory and illegally exporting rhinoceros horns from the United States to China.

The 43-year-old admitted to the crime in January, and was sentenced Monday, according to a news release.

He was ordered to pay $500,000 into the Lacey Act Reward Fund. The fund is used by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reward people who give information about wildlife crimes, as well as help pay the costs of caring for wildlife that's being held as evidence during investigations.

Zheng was also sentenced to serve three years of probation, six weeks of intermittent confinement, and 150 hours of community service.

“Those who engage in this illegal trade create demand, and a market for, the exploitation of endangered species such as black rhinoceros,” Assistant United States Attorney Laura M. Provinzino said in the news release.

Zheng helped to "sustain this illegal market for years," Provinzino added, noting he engaged in more than 300 sales, earning him more than $1 million.

"His profit was earned at the expense of these threatened and endangered species," Provinzino said.

Countries around the world have been working to prevent ivory trafficking and the illegal killing of endangered animals like elephants and rhinos. Last month, Kenya burned a huge ivory stockpile – more than 100 tons, which is equal to the tusks of about 6,700 elephants – in an effort to deter illegal ivory trading, the BBC reports.

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