A 19-year-old man already charged in state court with numerous Newport Beach burglaries pleaded guilty Monday to a federal criminal charge for stealing an endangered species of lemur from the Santa Ana Zoo.
Aquinas Kasbar entered his plea to a misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered species, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.
The Newport Beach resident is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 28 in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. His punishment in federal court is expected to run concurrent with any sentence resulting from the state court charges, federal prosecutors said.
In a statement released earlier to City News Service, defense attorney Brian Gurwitz said, “I would just emphasize that my client quickly regretted his action and took action that night to ensure that the lemur was returned safely to the zoo.”
Kasbar broke into the zoo on July 27, 2018, after it had closed for the day, and used bolt cutters to cut a hole in the enclosure for lemurs and capuchin monkeys.
Santa Ana zookeepers and animal control officers managed to wrangle several monkeys back into their cages after the break-in, but Isaac — at age 32 the oldest living ring-tailed lemur in captivity — was unaccounted for.
Isaac is unusual in that his species usually lives to 20 to 25 years old. The ring-tailed lemur is on a list of the 25 most endangered primates, in part because of black market pet trading, according to prosecutors.
After he took Isaac, reportedly with the initial intent of keeping the lemur as a pet, the defendant put the animal in a plastic drawer that lacked ventilation holes, according to his plea agreement. The next day, the animal — still in the drawer — was abandoned in front of a Marriott hotel in Newport Beach, with two notes that read, “Lemur (with tracker)” and “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police,” according to court papers.
Kasbar’s actions cost the zoo about $8,486, according to federal prosecutors.
Kasbar was charged in December with five burglaries in Newport Beach, but further investigation led the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to charge him in April with an additional 24 burglary counts. He is also facing one count of attempted burglary in addition to charges of resisting arrest and possessing burglary tools.
Kasbar’s alleged burglary spree began in May of last year and stretched through December, when he was arrested and charged with breaking into high-end homes and stealing jewelry and other valuables, including a series of guitars.
Evidence from a pawn shop helped link Kasbar to the break-ins, prosecutors said. When police tried to arrest him, Kasbar ran away and jumped into the water in the Back Bay area, authorities said.
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