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A California teen was sentenced to six months in jail on Tuesday after authorities caught him trying to smuggle a tiger across the United States/Mexico border, multiple sources confirm.
Authorities found the six-week-old Bengal tiger cub in the back of Luis Valencia's car in August, NBC 7 reports. The 18-year-old was traveling from Mexico into the United States near the city of San Diego at the time and, when asked about the animal, a passenger in the car claimed that it was just a cat before producing paperwork falsely stating that Bengal tigers are not a protected species. Valencia later admitted to paying $300 for the animal from a man he'd seen walking a full-sized tiger on a leash in Tijuana.
Prior to sentencing, Valencia's defense attorney told the court that his client had experienced a "lapse in judgment" and wanted to keep the endangered animal as a pet. However, prosecutors argued that Valencia was running an animal smuggling business, citing text messages sent by the teenager where he reportedly boasted about getting large sums of money for exotic animals such as jaguars and lions, BBC World News reports. Authorities also claimed that video found on Valencia's phone revealed a special compartment under his car seat that may have been used to smuggle animals across borders.
On Tuesday, a judge sentenced Valencia to six months in prison and three years of supervised release. The rescued tiger cub, now named Moka, currently lives in San Diego Zoo's Safari Park.