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November 1, 2022Brownsville, TX, United StatesContraband

HSI, federal partner investigations results in the guilty plea of a Texas woman for illegally smuggling a spider monkey

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - A Texas woman plead guilty Nov. 2, for illegally smuggling a spider monkey, following an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kingsville Police Department.

Savannah Nicole Valdez, 20, from Katy, Texas, pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife into the United States without first declaring and invoicing it and fleeing an immigration checkpoint.

“Smuggling in endangered species for commercial gain is a tragic crime against nature’s precious resources," said Craig Larrabee, Acting Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Antonio. "HSI takes every opportunity to join our federal, private sector and international partners to share our knowledge, experience and investigative techniques designed to protect and preserve threatened and endangered species."

According to court documents, on March 21, 2022, Valdez attempted to enter the United States through the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. Officers observed a wooden box with holes inside the vehicle which Valdez said contained beer she had purchased in Mexico.

When officers opened the box, they discovered a live spider monkey and referred Valdez to secondary inspection. Valdez, however, 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 on Jan. 25, 2023. At that time, Valdez faces up to twenty years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

She was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edgardo J. Rodriguez, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.

HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.