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Monkey business lands in court, again

Times Staff Writer

Nothing, it seems, gets between David Grigorian and his marmoset monkey.

On Wednesday, the 43-year-old Van Nuys resident found himself in court once again for harboring an undocumented primate.

Grigorian has told authorities that he considers Cheeta to be a member of his family, but state Department of Fish and Game officials say the animal has got to go.

In January, police arrested Grigorian for allegedly shouting criminal threats in front of a house in Van Nuys. As police took Grigorian into custody, they discovered the 7-year-old black-and-white male marmoset, who shares the same name as Tarzan’s chimp sidekick.

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Further investigation revealed another problem -- Grigorian lacked a monkey permit.

In California, people must obtain a special permit to possess marmoset monkeys, because they are nonnative species, according to Troy Swauger, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game. Only those who use the animals for educational or professional purposes, such as filming, can get permits.

After his arrest, Grigorian pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal animal possession and promised to give up Cheeta, according to Lisa Van Eyk, assistant supervising attorney at the Los Angeles city attorney’s office in Van Nuys.

In a somewhat complicated plan, Grigorian agreed to surrender Cheeta to Fish and Game officers, who would transfer the animal to a courier who would then take him to Nevada. Grigorian told officials he would pick up Cheeta in Nevada and take him to a caretaker in Arizona.

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Months later, however, Cheeta was back in town. On May 23, Burbank police stopped Grigorian for a traffic violation and spotted a monkey in the car, Van Eyk said.

Fish and Game officials said they understand that pet owners such as Grigorian love their animals, but the law is the law. Swauger said the department might try to place Cheeta in a zoo or with a private owner out of state so Grigorian could visit him.

The last resort, officials said, would be to kill the animal.

On Wednesday, Grigorian had a court date to prove the monkey was gone.

Grigorian told court Commissioner Thomas E. Grodin that the monkey was in Mexico. As proof, he displayed a photograph of Cheeta beside a recently dated Mexican newspaper. Red, white and green decorations filled the background.

Grodin was skeptical, Van Eyk said. Grigorian hedged for a while, then admitted the monkey was in downtown Los Angeles, Van Eyk said.

“They’d had it in the family for years, and it was a pet and he wasn’t going to give it up,” she said. Grigorian pleaded with the judge, saying that his kids had grown up with the monkey.

Grodin ordered bailiffs to put Grigorian in handcuffs until he agreed to give up Cheeta. The man was in tears as he went into a courthouse lock-up, Van Eyk said.

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Grigorian returned to the courtroom later in the day and agreed to hand over Cheeta to the Fish and Game Department.

He was told to come back next week with actual proof.

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com


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