A California teen convicted of trying to smuggle a Bengal tiger cub into San Diego from Mexico was sentenced in court Tuesday.
Luis Eudoro Valencia of Perris, California, received six months in prison and three years of supervised release for attempting to sneak the exotic animal into the U.S. The 18-year-old told investigators he had arranged to pay $300 for the cub from a man he saw walking a full-sized tiger on a leash in Tijuana.
The discovery of a Bengal tiger cub stashed in the back of his car led to Valencia's arrest at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on Thursday, Aug. 24. When asked about the tiger, a passenger told the inspector it was just a cat and produced special paperwork from AeroMexico Cargo.
His defense attorney told the court before the sentencing that his client had a lapse in judgment and wanted the endangered tiger as a pet. Valencia's paperwork included a sales receipt from a Mexican individual that falsely stated that Bengal tigers are not a protected species, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court.
But prosecutors argued Valencia’s cell phone data showed he was running an animal smuggling business and he'd boasted about fetching thousands of dollars for monkeys, jaguars and lions. Agents said video on his phone revealed a special compartment under his car seat that may have been used to smuggle wildlife, according to the complaint.
Tigers are endangered and it’s illegal to import them without a permit.
Now the rescued tiger cub named Moka lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park with his friend Rakan. At the time of his rescue, Moka was about five to six weeks old and only weighed six pounds.
The tiger's rescue was part of one of the largest wildlife trafficking busts across Southern California. Sixteen suspects were charged in "Operation Jungle Book" and a variety of animals ranging from Asian "lucky" fish to exotic songbirds were rescued.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.