Monkey smuggler pleads guilty

Published 6:38 am Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A 20-year-old Katy resident has pleaded guilty to illegally smuggling a spider monkey into the United States and fleeing from federal law enforcement, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Savannah Nicole Valdez pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife into the United States without first declaring and invoicing it and fleeing an immigration checkpoint.

On March 21, Valdez attempted to enter the United States through the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville. Law enforcement observed a wooden box with holes inside the vehicle which Valdez said contained beer she had purchased in Mexico.

However, when authorities opened the box, they discovered a live spider monkey and referred Valdez to secondary inspection. Valdez refused to comply with their instructions and instead sped off, running a traffic light and nearly colliding with officers and other vehicles.

Later that day, agents found multiple online postings advertising the sale of the spider monkey in the Katy and Houston areas with Valdez’s phone number listed in the advertisements.

On March 28, Valdez contacted law enforcement and turned herself in. She admitted to knowingly importing the monkey despite not declaring it and intentionally fleeing from law enforcement.

The monkey was ultimately recovered and placed with an animal shelter in the Central Florida area.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera will impose sentencing Jan. 25. At that time, Valdez faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

She was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Kingsville Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edgardo J. Rodriguez is prosecuting the case.