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Women convicted on monkey smuggling-related charges

Mon., Dec. 8, 2008, 12:17 p.m.

Gypsy Lawson has been indicted for smuggling a pet monkey into the United States from Asia, but she claims that she returned to the United States from her Asia trip and bought the monkey, a rhesus macaque, in California.  Apoo the monkey used to sleep with Lawson's dog Albert.  Courtesy of Gypsy Lawson (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gypsy Lawson, with her dog Albert, stand on their North Spokane front porch Friday, Mar. 7, 2008. Lawson has been indicted for smuggling a pet monkey into the United States from Asia, but she claims that she returned to the United States from her Asia trip and bought the monkey, a rhesus macaque, in California. Albert and the baby monkey used to sleep together before the monkey was taken away. JESSE TINSLEY THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A 29-year-old Spokane woman and her mother were convicted today by a U.S. District Court jury of federal charges related to smuggling a monkey into the United States.

Gypsy Lawson hid the young rhesus macaque monkey under her blouse, pretending to be pregnant when she successfully past through U.S. Customs after a trip to Bangkok, Thailand.

She didn’t run afoul of the law until she took the young monkey she named Apoo to a Spokane shopping mall the day after Christmas last year.

Her mother, Fran Ogren, 55, of Northport, Wash., also went on the trip in November 2007.

The two women were found guilty by a 12-member jury on separate charges of conspiracy and smuggling goods into the United States.

The women traveled to Thailand last year after establishing e-mail contact with a man named Boris. After going to several villages, the women gave the young monkey sleeping pills to sedate him before boarding planes for the United States.

During the trip home, Ogren sent an e-mail to “NE Washington Witches and Pagans” at a Yahoo account and asked “for last-minute energy” to help them safely smuggle the monkey into the United States.

The request worked and the women got past U.S. Customs officials in Los Angeles.

The monkey caper ended the day after Christmas last year when Pratt and Lawson visited the Fashion Bug store in north Spokane and told a clerk how the monkey was smuggled into the United States. That clerk called federal agents, who opened the investigation.

The jury got the case late Friday after a four-day trial. The panel resumed deliberations this morning and reached a verdict about 10 a.m.

Lawson’s boyfriend, James Edward Pratt, testified as a prosecution witness during the trial.

Pratt, 34, also was indicted in the scheme and faced felony charges. But last July he struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and testify as a government witness.

Besides Pratt’s testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Van Marter introduced journals, e-mails and photos taken by federal agents during a search of Ogren’s home. The evidence was introduced in an attempt to confirm the monkey-smuggling conspiracy.

The monkey was seized by federal agents and transported in a specialized vehicle with a quarantine compartment to a Center for Disease Control facility in California. After being quarantined for several weeks, the monkey did not test positive for any infectious diseases, other than being a carrier for the Herpes B virus.

The monkey is now at a primate rescue facility in Oregon where it will remain, said Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.

Lawson and Ogren will remain free on their own recognizance until sentencing on March 3.

U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt said the case highlights the partnerships between federal prosecutors, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Royal Thai Police.

“These defendants purposely undertook a course of action which could well have endangered many citizens, as well as the life of the animal in question,” McDevitt said.

Paul Chang, Pacific Northwest supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the “callousness and intent these people showed in carrying out their plan was egregious and placed at risk not only wildlife but potentially the health of other passengers on the plane and in their community.”

“These animals are known carriers of viruses and parasites that can be transmitted to humans, although this particular animal tested negative,” Chang said.

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