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Press Release

Illegal sale of monkey over Craigslist sends Houston woman to prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

HOUSTON – A 21-year-old woman has been sentenced for selling wildlife, including a spider monkey, in violation of the Lacey Act, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

Savannah Nicole Valdez pleaded guilty Feb. 8, 2023.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen has now ordered Valdez to serve 15 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. The court considered that Valdez was previously sentenced to two years of supervised release for smuggling a monkey into the United States and high-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint. The court revoked her supervised release in that case, and she received another month to run consecutively with this prison term.

“When Savannah Valdez sold a Mexican spider monkey, she contributed to endangering a species,” said Hamdani. “As the court heard today, those who traffic in infant spider monkeys shoot the mothers first and then pull the infants from their mother’s dead bodies before throwing them into cages for transport. 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.”

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

Law enforcement identified the personal cell phone number of Valdez during the initial investigation. They found the contact number listed for the animals was, in fact, the same.

The subsequent undercover operation involved the sale of two keel-billed toucans and a Mexican spider monkey.

On July 28, 2023, her mother arrived at Memorial City Mall in Houston to deliver the toucans and accepted $3,000 as payment. Her mother would later admit her daughter had arranged the sale.

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

The animals have been transferred to zoos within Texas.

Valdez as permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility in the near future.

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

Updated March 18, 2024