Texas shop owner admits to illegally selling hummingbirds

Published 10:54 am Thursday, May 13, 2021

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LAREDO, Texas – A businesswoman and her employee have admitted they were responsible for selling parts of a protected species, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Cecilia Castaneda, 63, pleaded guilty today, while Maria Luisa Garza-Salazar, 57, entered her plea Jan. 22. The Laredo women admitted to illegally selling hummingbirds. Castaneda owned and operated Herbario Corpus Christi, a business specializing in herbs and spices. Garza-Salazar was her employee.

Both women were charged under the Lacey Act for selling dried or parts of more than 160 hummingbirds. The Lacey Act still protects the migratory birds although they are no longer an endangered species. The law makes it a crime to import, sell, receive or acquire any wildlife which have been possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law.

Dried hummingbirds, or parts of the birds, are illegally packaged and sold commercially as love charms together with prayer cards. The hummingbirds are typically packaged in a paper sleeve and surrounded with red threads or envelopes.

In a companion case, Maria Guadalupe Garcia, 55, Laredo, admitted to selling more than 200 hummingbirds Oct. 28. She owned and operated Herbario Lupita, an herbal shop located in Laredo.

“These guilty pleas send a clear message to wildlife traffickers that we and our law enforcement partners are in the business of identifying and apprehending those who exploit protected species for commercial gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip Land of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS-OLE.) “We thank the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas for holding these individuals responsible for their actions.”

Castaneda is set for sentencing Aug. 10, while Garcia’s hearing is scheduled for June 22. At those times, they each face up to five years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

The FWS – OLE conducted the investigation with the assistance of Texas Game Wardens. Assistant U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno is prosecuting the case.