Jaguar Skins Openly Traded in FL
|Jaguar skins confiscated in investigation/Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida|
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.
|Jaguars: Not for smuggling in from Mexico and selling to federal agents.|
It’s not every day a couple gets arrested for smuggling jaguar skins from Mexico to sell to people in South Florida, but today’s one of those days.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Elias Garcia Garcia and Maria Angela Plancarte, both 52 years old, were arrested late last week on a trip crossing over from Mexico to Texas as part of an investigation that alleges they’ve been operating their jaguar-skin business in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The feds say the duo started selling the skins to people in-person around Texas, and also “by electronic means elsewhere.”
Garcia and Plancarte allegedly started selling the skins to undercover U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents in November 2010, and also started going on road trips to South Florida to sell them to the undercover agents there, too.
The feds say they sold two of the pelts to agents in Texas for $3,000 cash, and promised to sell them ten more.
In South Florida, prosecutors say the agents made the same purchase, but coughed up an extra $1,000 for a deposit on the ten future jaguar skins.
Unfortunately for Garcia and Plancarte, the jaguars — known as “Panthera onca” in the science world — are on the endangered species list.
Under the Endangered Species Act, it’s a violation of federal law to sell an animal, dead animal, or its body parts if it’s on the endangered list.
Garcia and Plancarte are charged with conspiring to traffic in protected wildlife and violating the Endangered Species Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six years each if convicted.