June 21, 2008

Man Dealt in Exotic Animal Products

By Tillie Fong

A Texas man was sentenced Friday to 16 years in federal prison for smuggling and selling sea turtle and other exotic animal products from Mexico.Oscar Cueva, 42, of McAllen, also was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge in Denver to three years supervised release. He had pled guilty Jan. 18 to conspiracy to commit smuggling and money laundering.Cueva also has the option of paying $5,000 to a specific sea turtle awareness program, perform 350 hours of community service for the benefit of the sea turtle conservation program, or participate in a public service announcement about the dangers and consequences of sea turtle smuggling."This smuggling ring exploited the illegal killing of countless protected turtles for their skins, all in the pursuit of a profit," said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resource Divsion. "Oscar Cueva will now serve prison time for his actions."Cueva and 10 others were indicted in Denver last August following a multiyear investigation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's branch of special operations.Cueva and six other defendants were arrested in Texas and Colorado on Sept. 6, 2007.Cueva owns a business called La Cueva Western Wear in McAllen, which buys and sells exotic animal leathers, including sea turtle, caiman, ostrich and lizard skins.During the course of the undercover investigation, Cueva smuggled about 200 sea turtle skins, 40 pairs of sea turtle skin boots and 100 pairs of boots made from other exotic skins requiring inspection and permits. The estimated value of the skins and boots smuggled by Cueva over the years was more than $200,000.

Originally published by Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News.

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