A 19-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges stemming from the theft of North America’s oldest ring-tailed lemur living in captivity and freeing of other primates at the Santa Ana Zoo last year, prosecutors said.
Aquinas Kasbar of Newport Beach admitted to one misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered species in the after-hours zoo heist on July 27, 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.
Officials announced earlier this year they’d secured a guilty plea from Kasbar, but new details emerged in Monday’s plea agreement.
The teen wanted the endangered animal, a 32-year-old lemur named Isaac, to keep as a pet, according to prosecutors.
Ring-tailed lemurs, a type of primate found in the wild only on the island of Madagascar, have lost more than 95% of their population since 2000, according to a recent study in Folia Primatologica.
The species is among the 25 most endangered primates, in part because of the illegal pet trade, officials said.
And Isaac’s age is notable because a lemur’s life span is usually 20 to 25 years.
Kasbar allegedly broke into to the zoo after it closed and used bolt cutters to cut into an enclosure holding the elderly lemur and several capuchin monkeys. A photo released by investigators showed a 16-inch hole in the cage.
About 10 primates escaped onto the facility’s 20-acre grounds, but Isaac was nowhere to be found when staff discovered the breach shortly before 8 a.m. the next morning.
Kasbar had abducted the lemur in an unventilated plastic container, authorities say.
The day after the heist, police found Isaac abandoned outside a Marriott hotel in Newport Beach. The animal was in a crate marked “SA Zoo” with a handwritten note reading, “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police.”
The lemur was returned to the zoo unharmed, but the ordeal cost the facility about $8,500, officials said.
The defendant was also accused in a series of residential burglaries in Newport Beach, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Kasbar is set to appear for his sentencing hearing in the federal case on Oct. 28. He’ll face a maximum possible sentence of one year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.