Orange County Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charge for Stealing Critically Endangered Ring-Tailed Lemur
SANTA ANA, California – A Newport Beach man pleaded guilty today to a federal criminal charge for breaking into the Santa Ana Zoo after hours and stealing North America’s oldest-living ring-tailed lemur in captivity in order to keep the endangered animal as a pet.
Aquinas Kasbar, 19, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered species. United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford has scheduled an October 28 sentencing hearing, where Kasbar will face a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.
Kasbar admitted in his plea agreement that he broke into the Santa Ana Zoo on July 27, 2018 after it had closed for the day. Kasbar used bolt cutters to cut a hole in the zoo’s enclosures for lemurs and capuchin monkeys, which enabled several of the animals to escape, though they were later recovered, court documents state.
Kasbar then stole Isaac, a 32-year-old, ring-tailed lemur (lemur catta), and North America’s oldest ring-tailed lemur in captivity. (A lemur’s life span typically is 20 to 25 years.) The ring-tailed lemur is on a list of the 25 most endangered primates, and ring-tailed lemurs are endangered, in part, because of the illegal pet trade, the plea agreement states.
Kasbar then placed Isaac in a plastic drawer that lacked ventilation holes, court papers state. The next day, Kasbar abandoned the animal in front of a Newport Beach hotel, leaving him in the same plastic drawer with two notes placed on it, which read, “Lemur (with tracker)” and “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police,” according to court documents. Kasbar’s actions resulted in a loss to the Santa Ana Zoo of approximately $8,486. Isaac later was returned unharmed to the zoo.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Newport Beach Police Department, and the Santa Ana Police Department.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Daniel H. Ahn of the Santa Ana Branch Office and Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.