A college professor in Minnesota has pleaded guilty to illegally smuggling items made of elephant ivory from the United States to China.

St. Cloud State University philosophy professor Yiwei Zheng (EEE'-way Zeng) also pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating the U.S. Lacey Act, which bans trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken or sold.

Under a plea deal, Zheng agreed to pay a $500,000 fine. He also could face roughly three years in prison when he's sentenced in May.

Investigators say the items Zheng tried to smuggle to China in April 2011 included potted flower carvings, a fan and a carved lion. All were made of elephant ivory.

The 43-year-old was indicted last year on multiple counts related to the smuggling of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns.

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This story has been corrected to show Zheng is 43, not 44.