A Southern California couple pleaded guilty Friday to smuggling 911 endangered sea turtle eggs from Mexico into the United States, federal prosecutors said.
Olga Jimenez, 52, and Jose Jimenez, 64, of Hemet, admitted to smuggling the sea turtle eggs by bus from Nayarit, Mexico, in 2014 and concealing them in coolers under layers of fish, shrimp and ice so they could be transported by pickup across the border in Tijuana, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The eggs were harvested from olive ridley and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, which are protected in Mexico and the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, prosecutors said.
As part of pleading guilty to the charges, which included smuggling, unlawful trafficking of wildlife and conspiracy, the couple agreed to forfeit the eggs and pay the Mexican government up to $9,000 in restitution.
Sea turtles are vulnerable to poaching during mass nesting events called arribadas, in which females each lay about 100 eggs and bury them in beach sand.
Because sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac, they can be sold for $100 to $300 apiece, according to prosecutors.
The couple was ordered to appear before a judge in May to be sentenced on charges that can result in penalties of up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison.