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Former Mexico Zoo Official, Wildlife Dealer Sentenced for Primate Smuggling

July 18, 1994

MIAMI (AP) _ A former zoo director and wildlife dealer from Mexico who tried to smuggle primates - including one that turned out to be a U.S. agent in a gorilla suit - were sentenced to 70 days in jail Monday.

But Victor Bernal and Eduardo Berges could be released as early as this week because the time they spent behind bars before sentencing was to be counted toward the 70 days.

The two were convicted May 17 of five counts of violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Bernal, the former director of parks and zoos for the Mexican state of Mexico, was also fined $40,000 and both men were ordered not to return to the United States without permission from U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno.

Bernal, 58, and Berges, 32, tried with three other defendants to pay undercover agents $92,500 for a baby orangutan and a young gorilla in January 1993, prosecutors said.

The men intended to ship the primates from Miami to Mexico without proper permits, but the gorilla turned out to be a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent.

The sting was set up after investigators were tipped by a primate dealer that the Mexicans were in the market for primates.

Moreno said he was flooded with letters asking for leniency for Berges and Bernal. He didn’t say whether the letters influenced his sentencing decision. Sentencing guidelines called for prison terms of one to two years for each man.

The three co-defendants were released last week after receiving 10-day sentences on a single misdemeanor of attempting to export an endangered species.

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