Houston Woman Sentenced for Selling Wildlife, Including Spider Monkey, in Violation of Lacey Act

Houston Woman Sentenced for Selling Wildlife, Including Spider Monkey, in Violation of Lacey Act
Photo courtesy of ICE

A 21-year-old woman, Savannah Nicole Valdez, has been sentenced for selling wildlife, including a spider monkey, in violation of the Lacey Act, according to U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

Valdez pleaded guilty on Feb. 8, 2023.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen has ordered Valdez to serve 15 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. The court took into account Valdez’s previous offenses, including smuggling a monkey into the United States and fleeing from an immigration checkpoint. Her supervised release was revoked, and she received an additional month to serve consecutively with her prison term.

In the summer of 2023, authorities discovered advertisements on Craigslist offering exotic birds for sale, including keel-billed toucans and yellow-headed amazon parrots, which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Law enforcement traced the personal cell phone number of Valdez during the investigation. It was found to be the same contact number listed for the animals.

An undercover operation led to the sale of two keel-billed toucans and a Mexican spider monkey. Valdez’s mother delivered the toucans at Memorial City Mall in Houston on July 28, 2023, and received $3,000 as payment. Valdez arranged the sale.

On Aug. 1, 2023, Valdez coordinated the sale of a Mexican spider monkey for $8,500, with her sister delivering it on her behalf.

The animals have since been transferred to zoos within Texas.

Valdez has been permitted to remain on bond and will voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility soon.

The investigation was conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Schammel prosecuted the case.

“When Savannah Valdez sold a Mexican spider monkey, she contributed to endangering a species,” said Hamdani. “Valdez’s actions helped sustain an illicit market that encouraged the needless death and suffering of endangered animals. Thankfully, now she will have to spend time in a cage of her making – a prison cell.”