March 8, 2008 in City

Second monkey seized; three people indicted

Staff writer
 

A second exotic monkey has been seized in Spokane, and this one may have been smuggled into the United States under a pregnant-looking woman’s blouse, authorities said Friday.

Three people were indicted in that federal wildlife smuggling case on Tuesday, five days after another monkey was captured after getting loose and biting three people on the South Hill.

Federal authorities confirmed Friday they are attempting to determine the origin of the first runaway monkey, a Java macaque owned by Amy LeAnn Hensley, who’s awaiting sentencing in a diploma mill conspiracy case. Federal laws may have been violated, depending on where her monkey came from and how long she had it.

In the second, unrelated case, Gypsy Lawson, 27, her boyfriend, James Edward Pratt, 33, both of Spokane, and her mother, Fran Ogren, 55, of Northport, Wash., are charged in the federal indictment returned Tuesday.

The three, scheduled to voluntarily appear in U.S. District Court on March 20, are charged with smuggling a young rhesus macaque into the United States, and possession and transportation of prohibited wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act, U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt said Friday.

Court documents suggest the monkey may have come from Thailand. It may have been smuggled under the clothing of a woman who appeared pregnant, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The infant monkey was taken from Lawson when federal agents searched her home Jan. 11, Lawson said during an interview Friday on her front porch.

“He was my baby and completely nonaggressive,” said Lawson, who named the monkey Apoo, which she says means “grandfather.”

“He liked to cuddle and sleep with Albert,” her 3-year-old Jack Russell-poodle mix, Lawson said. “They bonded immediately.”

When federal agents entered her home on East Nebraska with a search warrant, “they couldn’t even find the monkey,” Lawson said. “I had to show them – he was sleeping with my dog in the crate.”

Lawson, who has lived in Spokane since graduating from Springdale High School, said she and her mother traveled to Thailand last fall, but Pratt didn’t make the trip.

“I was already in love with monkeys, but we went and studied elephants and monkeys in Thailand in October,” Lawson said. She denied the federal charges accusing her of smuggling the monkey when she returned to the United States.

“I didn’t get it in Thailand,” Lawson said. “I went through five countries, with security and everything. I never got the monkey in Thailand. There’s no way they can prove I smuggled a monkey.”

She dismissed a question about smuggling the monkey under her blouse, saying she bought Apoo for several hundred dollars from someone in Southern California. She declined to provide specifics.

“He’s just a baby, and I don’t even know where they’re keeping him right now,” Lawson said. Federal authorities said the monkey is at a U.S. Fish & Wildlife facility in California, but wouldn’t be more specific.

The smuggling investigation began after authorities received a telephone call Dec. 27, tipping them that a monkey had been seen at two stores at NorthPointe Plaza in north Spokane.

“Yeah, we took him out with us, he needed socialization,” Lawson said. “Our friend’s girlfriend used to work in one of the stores, and one of the employees there said it was a smuggled monkey, just foaming at the mouth with disease. None of that is true.”

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents contacted her and Pratt, they voluntarily went to the federal agency’s office in early January and answered questions, court documents say.

The documents also say federal investigators have located at least one witness who says Ogren, Lawson’s mother, was bragging about smuggling the monkey and talking about getting a second primate for breeding.

A week later, after the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife joined the investigation, agents served a search warrant at Lawson and Pratt’s home on East Nebraska and Ogren’s home near Northport.

Besides taking her monkey, agents “seized my camera, my cell phone, everything,” Lawson said, expressing disbelief that federal authorities are “coming after me.”

She said she’s uncertain what will happen and hopes “for some kind of help from the monkey community. My main goal: I just want him back.”

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