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California man to plead guilty to stealing lemur from zoo

Aquinas Kasbar, 19, left the animal in a plastic drawer outside a Newport Beach hotel. He faces up to a year in prison.

A California man will plead guilty to stealing a ring-tailed lemur from the Santa Ana Zoo last year, federal prosecutors said. He planned to keep the animal, the oldest-living animal of its type in captivity in North America, as a pet, officials said.

Aquinas Kasbar, 19, of Newport Beach, faces up to a year in prison and a maximum of a $100,000 fine after agreeing to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered species, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement Monday.

Kasbar broke into the zoo after hours July 27, used bolt cutters to cut a hole in enclosures for lemurs and capuchin monkeys and took the 32-year-old lemur named Isaac, prosecutors said. The following day, he left the animal in a plastic drawer outside a Newport Beach hotel with a note that said, "This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police," prosecutors said.

Image: Aquinas Kasbar
This undated booking photo provided by the Orange County District Attorney's Office shows Aquinas Kasbar, 19, of Newport Beach, Calif. Federal prosecutors say Kasbar has agreed to plead guilty to stealing a ring-tailed lemur from a Southern California zoo.Orange County District Attorney's Office via AP

The hole that Kasbar cut allowed several other animals to escape, and they were all recovered, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Ring-tailed lemurs are considered an endangered primate. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that classification is in part due to the illegal pet trade, although its statement suggests Kasbar intended to keep it as a pet. The government says that the theft resulted in a loss of nearly $8,500 to the zoo.

Kasbar’s attorney, Brian Gurwitz, said in a phone interview Monday evening that the teen “quickly realized it was a bad decision, and he took steps that night to ensure that it would be returned safely to the zoo.”

"It was a poor youthful decision made by a high school student,” Gurwitz said.

Kasbar also faces a slew of charges related to a series of burglaries in the Newport Beach area.

Newport Beach police said in December that Kasbar had been arrested in connection with "a months-long series of Newport Beach residential burglaries where unoccupied homes were targeted." Police then estimated the value of the stolen items to be "in the several hundred thousands of dollars." Some of the goods were found in a storage unit.

Kasbar has pleaded not guilty in that case and is free on bail, Gurwitz said.

Newport Beach is a city of around 85,000 in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.