Web Posted: 03/21/2007 12:39 AM CDT
Maya and Inca, two ocelots born at a retreat in California, got new homes at a private compound in Texas and a new owner who stresses wildlife conservation.
However, because the owner traveled with the exotic felines across the country, a judge sentenced her Tuesday to violating federal law.
During a hearing in San Antonio, Amelia Rasmussen pleaded guilty to receiving and transporting federally protected animals across state lines, a misdemeanor she committed when she took the felines home to her 36-acre ranch.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo accepted the plea and sentenced Rasmussen of Nixon to probation for one year and ordered her to pay $15,000 in fines. The money will go to an Oregon zoo and be earmarked for programs relating to endangered wildlife.
Rasmussen, who paid $5,000 for each of the felines in August 2003, was also ordered to pay $25 to a court fund for crime victims.
Rasmussen, 57, reached the plea deal last year with federal prosecutors in Oregon, where investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ran “Operation Cat Tale,” a probe into the interstate sale and trafficking of the cats, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The investigation snared Rasmussen and eight other people in Oregon, New York and Pennsylvania as well as the retreat in California that was breeding and selling the cats.
In one case, a jacket made of ocelot fur was sold on eBay.
“A lot of people will pay high dollar for these exotic animals, and in particular ocelots because they’re endangered,” said Phil Land, a special agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore.
As part of the agreement, Rasmussen admitted she bought the cats from the Geyserville, Calif.-based Isis Society for Inspirational Studies, whose members include followers of the ancient Egyptian goddess of nature. But Rasmussen said she intended no harm and that she stresses conservation.
“I’m doing a responsible job with the animals,” she said in an interview, adding that they have free access to a room inside her house and to a chain-link enclosure.
“I did something illegal, but it’s not my hobby to go around doing things illegally. Generally, I’m educating people about conservation of the cats.”
Late last year, the Isis Society for Inspirational Studies, also known as the Temple of Isis, admitted as part of a plea deal that it conspired to violate the Endangered Species Act through the illegal sale of six ocelots. It was fined $60,000 and ordered put on probation for two years.
Court records said the Temple of Isis agreed with the purchasers to mischaracterize the sale of ocelots as “donations,” and the payments for them as “contributions” to the retreat’s charitable organizations.
The purchasers, including Rasmussen, falsified federal forms to maintain the “donation” cover story. .