A Southern California couple has been sentenced to six months in prison for smuggling more than 900 endangered sea turtle eggs into the United States from Mexico, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Jose and Olga Jimenez pleaded guilty Feb. 19 to charges of conspiracy, smuggling and unlawful trafficking related to wildlife.
At the sentencing Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino said the case involved the largest seizure ever of sea turtle eggs imported from Mexico. The eggs are considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in Asia, where they sell for hundreds of dollars.
Authorities said the couple tried to smuggle the eggs into the U.S. in coolers under layers of ice, fish and shrimp.
Jose Jimenez, 64, drove from their home in Hemet and met his wife in Tijuana on Nov. 24, 2014. Their sons also were in Tijuana to pick up an aunt.
The defendants told their sons the coolers contained only fish and shrimp and asked them to take the coolers through the San Ysidro border crossing in their pickup, while they walked across, according to court documents.
The son driving told border agents about the fish and shrimp, but agents searched and found the contraband sea turtle eggs. Olga Jimenez, 52, did not answer calls and text messages from her sons after they told her the coolers were being searched, according to court documents.
From 1999 to 2013, Olga Jimenez, who sold seafood in the U.S., tried to bring seafood and protected species into the U.S. She was penalized several times, according to court documents.
A hearing is scheduled in June to set the amount of restitution the couple will have to pay the Mexican government for the loss of its natural resource.
Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.