A Texas couple that made road trips to South Florida to peddle smuggled jaguar skins have pleaded guilty to violating the law governing the trade in endangered species.
Elias Garcia Garcia, 53, and Maria Angela Plancarte, 52, of La Feria, Texas, used the cover of a plant seed company to drive to South Florida to sell jaguar skins smuggled from Mexico for thousands of dollars, according to an August indictment.
The investigation involved undercover agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posing as animal-skin buyers.
In Brownsville, Texas, last year, Elias Garcia Garcia offered to sell an undercover agent any animal skin the agent wanted, with the price of jaguar skins set at $1,500. The next day, the couple met with undercover agents, showed them four jaguar skins and sold them two for $3,000, according to the indictment.Then they drove a van to South Florida, met with agents in Homestead, sold them two skins for $3,000 and accepted a deposit of $1,000 for the delivery of up to 10 more skins.
They pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trade in species that have been obtained illegally.
The jaguar, the largest cat found in the Americas, once ranged from most of South America through the southwestern United States. But it has been virtually eradicated from the United States, to the point that occasional sightings near the Mexican border generate newspaper headlines. A jaguar was photographed Saturday in southeastern Arizona by a hunter whose dogs had treed it.
The major threats to the jaguar are the loss of habitat to deforestation and hunting, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Sentencing has been scheduled for March 5 before U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard. They face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.