SAN DIEGO — An 18-year-old Riverside County man appeared before a federal judge in San Diego Tuesday and admitted making a failed attempt to smuggle a Bengal tiger cub into the United States from Mexico.
Luis Valencia of Perris pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in connection with his bid to sneak the wild animal — a juvenile specimen of an endangered species — across the U.S. Mexico border last summer through the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Valencia admitted that on Aug. 18, he contacted a co-conspirator in Mexico to make arrangements to obtain the 6-week-old tiger. Four days later, Valencia got a message from his Mexico contact stating that the cub would be arriving at the Tijuana airport that evening, court documents state.
The following afternoon, when Valencia and a companion entered the United States from Mexico in a 2017 Chevrolet Camaro with no license plates, the baby tiger was on the floor of the vehicle, underneath the legs of Valencia’s passenger. Valencia failed to declare the animal, which was promptly discovered and seized by border inspectors.
The defendant admitted that he hoped to conceal the animal from the Customs agents so he could spirit it into the United States.
Valencia further conceded that neither he nor any of his co- conspirators had received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import the club, which, like all tigers, is protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
“We have laws in place to protect endangered species, and smuggling a tiger in the front seat of a car puts both the tiger and the public in jeopardy,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. “We will hold violators accountable.”
Valencia faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of at least $250,000 at his sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 20.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has taken custody of the tiger cub, which last month was named “Moka” via a Facebook vote.