Animal Traffickers Continue to Operate Illegally in Fashion District

A longtime police officer who patrols the Fashion District said a $100 fine is too lenient a punishment to actually stop the black market business.

By Ana Garcia and Robbi Peele
|  Tuesday, Jun 18, 2013  |  Updated 1:41 PM PDT
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Despite signs warning against the illegal sale of animals on Los Angeles streets, there are still countless bunnies, turtles, and other animals for sale. Police say Juan Mena is the ringleader of the animal trafficking in the Fashion District, and even though he has been arrested multiple times, he still continues to operate. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2012.

Ana Garcia

Despite signs warning against the illegal sale of animals on Los Angeles streets, there are still countless bunnies, turtles, and other animals for sale. Police say Juan Mena is the ringleader of the animal trafficking in the Fashion District, and even though he has been arrested multiple times, he still continues to operate. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2012.

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Under signs that warn against the sale or purchase of animals on the streets of Los Angeles thrives a black market of illegal animal exchange that goes on, virtually without any interference.

During the summer, an investigation by the Get Garcia team exposed the sale of bunnies in the Fashion District.

Sellers say the bunnies are miniature but veterinarians disagree, saying, in fact, the animals are infant rabbits, very small and not old enough to be separated from their mothers. Those animals often die days or even hours later of starvation, too young to eat the lettuce and carrots placed in their cages.

A return visit to the Fashion District showed very little has changed.

Police said Juan Mena is the man behind much of these illegal sales, and records show he has an extensive number of arrests for illegal animal sales, animal cruelty, and assault with a firearm. He has a stay-away order from the area and police said he is in the country illegally.

Still, Mena is back in the Fashion District, selling the animals experts say have little chance of surviving.

Officer Randy McCain has patrolled the Fashion District for more than 20 years and is well acquainted with the traffickers.

"He's arrested on Saturday and he’s out doing the same thing on Sunday,” McCain told NBC4.

The animal trafficking is usually treated as a misdemeanor and the traffickers simply have to pay $100 bail to be released.

Mena's wife, Reyna Paredes, was arrested in October. It was her seventh arrest for illegal animal sales and she's on probation. Still, six hours later she was back on the street.

Fashion District security officers told the Get Garcia Team both Mena and Paredes have been spotted selling bunnies in the district since then.

"The bail needs to be increased," McCain said, referring to what he believes is a way to stop the underground business. "They need to do jail time."

Jill Bandemer shops in the Fashion District and sees the traffickers brazenly ignoring the law.

"It's heart breaking to me," she said. "These people are continuing to do this and almost laughing in your face, like these are your laws and we're not going to follow them and that really bothers me."

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