A Texas couple who sold an exotic South American cat to an undercover agent was arrested while trying to sell a jaguar cub to the same agent a month later, according to court documents.
And while the felines may be small in size, selling them violated the federal Big Cat Public Safety Act, according to the US Southern District of Texas Attorney’s Office.
Rafael Gutierrez-Galvan, 29, met with a Homeland Security Investigations special agent “acting in an undercover capacity” at a local Academy Sports and Outdoors parking lot on August 24, according to a criminal complaint.
“Gutierrez-Galvan delivered a margay to the undercover agent in exchange for $7,500,” the complaint stated.
Almost a month after the first wildlife trafficking incident, Gutierrez-Galvan met with the same undercover agent to deliver a jaguar cub on September 26.
When federal officials approached Gutierrez-Galvan, he said in Spanish: “I’m just here to sell a cat,” the criminal complaint noted.
Federal agents were conducting surveillance at Gutierrez-Galvan’s residence – and on the same day of the second transaction, agents noticed Deyanira Garza, 28, leaving the home “carrying an object that appeared to be a type of case” to meet her husband, Gutierrez-Galvan, at his location.
Before Garza could meet her spouse, she was pulled over by an Alamo police officer for failure to signal a turn, according to the complaint.
“During the traffic stop, Garza stated there was money in the case,” the complaint said.
Garza was taken into custody and admitted neither she nor Gutierrez-Galvan were licensed to buy, sell, trade or transport exotic animals, the complaint stated.
If convicted, Gutierrez-Galvan and Garza can face up to five years in federal prison, with a maximum fine of $20,000.
The Alamo couple’s case is the first filed under the Big Cat Public Safety Act, US Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani announced.
The measure went into effect in December 2022, prohibiting the importation, exportation, selling and private ownership of big cats as pets, including cubs.
The prohibited wildlife species include:
- Leopards: snow and clouded
- Cougars/Pumas/Mountain lions
- Any panther
Private individuals or entities owned big cats before the act went into effect are exempt, but their animals must be registered with the Fish and Wildlife Service.