The conviction of a Miami man is the latest in a crackdown on the trade of the high-priced horns.

MIAMI — The conviction of a Miami shop owner this month was the latest crackdown by a federal task force targeting illegal trafficking in a substance that costs more per ounce than cocaine, or even gold.

Black rhino horn.

The horns, prized in some Asian nations as popular but unproven folk remedies, are at the center of an international black market with a hub in South Florida.

High prices and demand have triggered a poaching bloodbath in Africa that threatens the survival of black rhinos and fueled a growing illegal trade in old taxidermy mounts from museums or private collections.

It’s a criminal network run like sex, gun and drug trafficking and is often linked to the same players, said Edward Grace, assistant director for the U.S. Department of Justice’s division of Wildlife Law Enforcement, which oversees a multi-agency investigative effort called Operation Crash. Crash is another name for a herd of rhino.

“It’s like any drug investigation,” said Grace. “Take out cocaine or heroin and replace it with rhino horn.”

Miami, already a nexus for smugglers dealing in an array of protected wildlife, also has figured in the illicit horn trade. There have been three rhino-related busts in the last two years alone.

“Because we have such a diverse community and such an attractiveness as an international market city, this is always going to be an issue for us,” said Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami who prosecutes wildlife smuggling crimes.

The latest case involves Gene Harris, 76, owner of Art by God, a Biscayne Boulevard gallery in downtown Miami that sells cultural artifacts, geological oddities and wildlife products.

Earlier this month, Harris pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to brokering an illegal transaction involving rhino horn – a violation of federal and international endangered species laws. Harris, who is scheduled for sentencing in September, faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

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