Texas Woman Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Spider Monkey in a ‘Beer Box’

by Taylor Cunningham
Kryssia Campos/Getty

A Texas woman is facing criminal charges after trying to smuggle a spider monkey into the country using a beer box.

Savannah Nicole Valdez, 20, pleaded guilty to the crime this week following a March arrest. According to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she attempted to sneak the animal into the United States from Mexico through the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas.

When Valdez tried driving through the checkpoint, officers noticed that her car was carrying a wooden box with holes cut into it. Valdez claimed that only beer was inside, but officers opened the box anyway and found the live spider monkey. The officers then instructed her to pull over for another inspection. However, she refused.

The driver proceeded to speed away from customs with the monkey in tow and run a traffic light. In the process, she “nearly” collided “with officers and other vehicles.”

Officers did not catch Valdez immediately, but later that day, she posted online ads that listed the hijacked primate for sale in Katy and Houston. Along with those ads, she listed her phone number, which helped the police track her down.

Woman Could Spend 20 Years in a Federal Prison After Attempting to Smuggle an Endangered Monkey into the United States

Valdez turned herself in on March 28. And on Nov. 2, she pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife into the United States without first declaring and invoicing it and fleeing an immigration checkpoint on Nov. 2.

The spider monkey, which is federally protected by the endangered species act, is now “safely living” in a Central Florida shelter. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Kingsville Police Department are all involved in the investigation and resulting prosecution.

“Smuggling in endangered species for commercial gain is a tragic crime against nature’s precious resources,” Craig Larrabee, Acting Special Agent in Charge, HSI San Antonio, said in the statement.

“HSI takes every opportunity to join our federal, private sector, and international partners to share our knowledge, experience, and investigative techniques designed to protect and preserve threatened and endangered species,” he continued.

Valdez is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 25, 2023. During the court date, U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera could send her to a federal prison for up to 20 years. He could also slap her with a maximum fine of $250,000. While she waits, a judge allowed her to remain out of jail on bond.