Iowa taxidermist pleads guilty to trafficking rhino horns from Oregon

A taxidermist has pleaded guilty to purchasing and transporting black rhinoceros horns from Oregon to Iowa.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa says 39-year-old James Hess, of Maquoketa, Iowa, entered his plea Wednesday to one count of violating the Lacey Act. The 1990 federal law criminalizes sales of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Black rhinos are classified as critically endangered. It's illegal to traffic their horns across state lines.

According to the Des Moines Register, Hess acknowledged paying an Oregon seller $16,000 for the two horns in 2011, which he removed from a taxidermied black rhino head. He used cash provided by Jarrod Wade Steffen, who was coordinating the transaction on behalf of two California businessmen who fed the horns into black markets in Vietnam and southeast Asia.

Demand for rhino horn, which is used in folk remedies, has driven poaching to record levels, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and a kilogram can command as much as $60,000.

Steffen pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy, smuggling, wildlife trafficking and other charges, the newspaper reported.

Hess, who pocketed at least $15,000 from the illegal resale, faces as much as five years in prison.

-- The Associated Press