Tijuana woman sentenced in sea cucumber smuggling scheme

A Mexican woman who smuggled endangered sea cucumbers into the United States was sentenced Tuesday to eight months in prison.

A federal judge in San Diego sentenced Claudia Castillo, 49, of Tijuana, who previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import merchandise contrary to law. She also was ordered to pay $12,000 in restitution to the Mexican government.

Castillo acknowledged that in 2018 and 2019, she conspired to smuggle or have others smuggle bags containing the sea animals from Mexico to a self-storage unit in San Ysidro, just over the border, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego.

From there, the smuggled animals could be transported elsewhere for sale.

The giant, worm-like sea cucumbers are eaten as a delicacy, especially in China. Authorities estimated the smuggled animals had a market value of $40,000 to $95,000.

“Illegal trafficking in fish and wildlife is big business,” U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect endangered wildlife.”

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