2 sentenced for trafficking ivory, wildlife 'products' into Seattle

Two men from the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced for their involvement in trafficking wildlife products into the Pacific Northwest, which included elephant ivory, white rhino horn and pangolin scales. 

34-year-old Herdade Lokua and 32-year-old Jospin Mujangi were sentenced to 20 months and 14 months in prison, respectively. 

The court determined that Lokua was the organizer of a trafficking operation involving more than five other co-conspirators whose goal was to ship a cargo container full of ivory, horn and pangolin scales to Seattle. Mujangi helped package the wildlife products and handled the financial details to process the payment through a Chinese bank and then back to DRC, according to the Department of Justice. 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty recognized by 181 countries. In that treat, the white rhinoceros has been listed as a protected species since 1975 and the African elephant has been listed since 1977. All species of pangolin were added to the CITES appendix with the greatest level of protection in 2017.

All three mammals are threatened by poaching and habitat loss.

In their prior guilty pleas, both men admitted that, beginning in November 2019, they agreed to smuggle the wildlife products to the United States. They worked with a middleman to negotiate the sales and coordinate imports to Seattle. 

Between August and September 2020, Lokua and Mujangi made several small sales to build trust with the buyers. They sent three packages containing approximately 49 pounds of ivory from Kinshasa. They arranged for the ivory to be cut into smaller pieces and painted black; the packages were then falsely labeled as containing wood, the DOJ said. 

The pair also admitted that they traveled to Seattle on Nov. 2 of 2021 to meet with prospective buyers, who were actually undercover federal agents. After negotiating the details for 10,802 pounds of ivory, nearly 7 pounds of rhinoceros horn, and 3,300 pounds of pangolin scales worth $3.5 million, agents arrested both men in Edmonds.

"Wildlife trafficking is decimating many species worldwide and has broader impacts to a country’s economic development and security," said Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI operations in the Pacific Northwest. "HSI is proud of our international public and private sector partnerships who enabled the success of this investigation and will continue to leverage those partnerships to target and dismantle future trafficking organizations who seek profit over the risk of extinction."