By Hannah Fry / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — An Orange County man who stole an endangered ring-tailed lemur from the Santa Ana Zoo actually had his heart set on a monkey when he entered the 20-acre property under the cover of darkness last year in search of a new pet, federal investigators said this week.
Much to Aquinas “Quinn” Kasbar’s chagrin, none of the monkeys would cooperate with him, so he snagged a 32-year-old lemur named Isaac instead, according to the FBI.
The whole scene unfolded sometime after the Santa Ana Zoo closed July 27, 2018. Authorities said Kasbar used bolt cutters to open enclosures and release a group of capuchin monkeys and ring-tailed lemurs before making off with Isaac, the oldest lemur of his kind in North America. Lemurs are found in the wild only on the island nation of Madagascar and are an endangered species.
“It was definitely alarming,” Ethan Fisher, executive director of the Santa Ana Zoo, said in a prepared statement. “He is a senior animal, and all of the primates have special care. They have specialized diets formulated for their species.”
Isaac wasn’t missing for long. Employees at the Newport Beach Marriott Bayview found him outside the front door of the hotel in a plastic crate with a note that read: “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo. It was taken last night. Please bring it to police.”
The lemur was returned safely to the zoo, but the identity of his captor remained a mystery until December, when Kasbar was arrested and charged in connection with a series of burglaries in Newport Beach.
While in custody, Kasbar bragged to his bail agent that he had stolen a lemur from the zoo. He even showed the person a video on his phone of himself with the lemur, said Santa Ana Police Detective Farshid Hashempour, who investigated the case as part of an FBI task force.
“Investigators learned that Kasbar had broken into the zoo with the intention of taking a monkey for a pet, but he couldn’t get any of the monkeys to go with him,” the FBI wrote in a news release.
Kasbar, 19, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered animal and was sentenced last month to three months in prison. He also must pay $8,485 in restitution to the zoo, court records show.
Kasbar declined to comment at his sentencing hearing last month, but his attorney, Brian Gurwitz, said his client was apologetic for his actions.
“The nature and circumstances of the offense in this case is intriguing,” U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford said. “This sentence needs to reflect the seriousness of the offense and … to convince other people not to do this. This sentence needs to convince Mr. Kasbar not to do this, but the irony is he was convinced not to do it before the legal justice system intervened.
“Sounds like you’ve learned your lesson,” Guilford told Kasbar.
For Isaac, his impromptu trip to Newport Beach is behind him and he is back home, healthy and happily socializing with five other lemurs at the zoo.
“He seemed pretty unfazed by the adventure,” Fisher said.