US LAW – LAWFUEL – A couple whose escaped exotic cat was killed in suburban Ventura County both pleaded guilty this afternoon to federal charges related to housing of their collection of animals.
The couple was moving their exotic cats from San Diego County to their new residence in Moorpark in early 2005 when a Siberian tiger escaped and roamed eastern Ventura County for almost four weeks until it was shot and killed.
Gert Einar “Abby” Hedengran, 58, who now lives with his wife in Pahrump, Nevada, pleaded guilty to felony counts of making false statements to agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and obstruction of justice. Additionally, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to maintain proper records for the exotic felines.
Roena “Emma” Hedengran, 54, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor counts fo failing to maintain records of exotic felines.
From March of 1998 through March of 2005, the Hedengrans operated a non-profit animal sanctuary and exhibition featuring exotic felines, including lions and tigers. In January 2005, they transferred their cats from a Temecula facility to their new residence and facility in Moorpark. At some point during the move, a Siberian lynx and an adult male Siberian tiger escaped from the new facility in Moorpark. The lynx was tranquilized and captured. After approximately four weeks on the loose, the tiger known as “Tuffy” was shot and killed on February 23 in a Moorpark residential neighborhood near an elementary school and public park.
Gert Hedengran admitted today that he misled and obstructed state and federal law enforcement officers who were attempting to track down and capture the escaped tiger. For example, he told investigators that he was not missing a tiger, when in fact he knew that “Tuffy” had escaped.
The Hedengrans pleaded guilty before United States District Judge George H. King in Los Angeles. Judge King is scheduled to sentence both defendants on April 9.
A plea agreement between Gert Hedengran and the government calls for a sentence of 14 months in prison, although this is not binding on Judge King. The parties have agreed that Roena Hedengran should receive a sentence of four months of home detention, three years of probation and fine of $2,000, a sentence that is binding on Judge King.
This investigation was conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Animal Care; the California Department of Fish and Game; and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Joseph O. Johns
Release No. 07-001