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California in Brief / SAN FRANCISCO

Pair plead guilty to importing tiger

April 19, 2008|From the Associated Press

A Bay Area couple admitted in federal court to trying to illegally import a real, stuffed tiger into the United States.

The pair pleaded guilty to one charge each of trying to import an endangered species without proper permits in exchange for prosecutors dropping more serious smuggling charges. Nicki Phung, 31, and Steven Tieu, 38, are both expected to be sentenced to probation. Each has agreed to pay $5,000 to a nonprofit dedicated to protecting wild cats.

The two were caught in December when a U.S. customs official at San Francisco International Airport inspected a box labeled "toy tiger" mailed from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and bound for the couple's home in Hercules, Calif.

Phung's attorney, Geoffrey Rotwein, said the mounted tiger was a gift and that the couple never intended to sell it.

He said the couple don't know who the gift giver was and didn't know until "late in the game" that they were to receive a stuffed tiger. "They kind of got duped into this," Rotwein said.

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