That’s the end of that monkey business.
A black-market animal breeder who was called the “Monkey Whisperer” has been sentenced to eight months of home confinement after being caught illegally selling a capuchin monkey to famed R&B singer Chris Brown.
The investigation into Hammonds began in 2017 when animal rights activists spotted videos of Brown’s daughter and the newly-acquired pet monkey on the singer’s Instagram page and alerted wildlife officials.
The probe revealed that Hammonds, 58, of Parrish, Fla., had sold the monkey, named Fiji, to Brown for $12,650 and then sent the animal from Florida to California, without securing any permits and using an unlicensed courier, prosecutors said.
It is also illegal to own a capuchin in California without a permit, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, so Brown was charged with two misdemeanors after handing the monkey to authorities. He later struck a deal to avoid jail time by paying for the costs for the monkey’s care at a sanctuary and agreeing to stay out of trouble for six months.
Hammonds’ attorney, Gary Ostrow, said his client had believed that he had been selling the capuchin to a legitimate buyer in Nevada where it is legal to own capuchins, but only learned part way through the transaction that the ultimate buyer of the animal was Brown. When later questioned about the sale, prosecutors say Hammond lied to investigators about what he knew about Brown being the actual buyer.
“It’s privileged and self-entitled people like Chris Brown who think they can buy a monkey for their entertainment, who cast a real shadow over what is otherwise a legitimate business run by people who genuinely love animals,” Ostrow said.
A message sent to representatives for Brown wasn’t immediately returned.
The “Run It!” and “Kiss Kiss” singer has remained controversial for much of his career since pleading guilty in 2009 to felony assault and serving six months for beating his then-girlfriend, the singer Rihanna.
Suspect simian sales
Further investigation into Hammonds’ business uncovered copious records showing he had illegally sold primates to customers all over the country. Between 2012 and 2017, prosecutors say he earned over $1 million from such sales.
“Hammonds’ history shows that he has been engaged in illicit wildlife trafficking for his own financial benefit for years,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Hammonds operated a primate breeding business in Florida called The Monkey Whisperer, LLC, and was accused of routinely selling the animals, some of which are listed as endangered species, on the black market without proper permits.
Prosecutors say the records showed that Hammonds illegally sold cotton-top tamarins, which are endangered, to buyers in Alabama, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. In one case, they say Hammonds tried to convince a buyer to lie to authorities to say she had acquired the monkeys at a flea market and that they had later died.
Hammonds’ attorney said his client admitted he had made mistakes, but had mostly been a law-abiding animal breeder who made his living legitimately.
“They paint a picture of a guy who is the Al Capone of the black market animal trade, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Ostrow said. “Jimmy Hammonds loves animals and cares for them better than most breeders do.”
Hammonds had previously been convicted in Florida state court in 2012 for illegally transporting monkeys without proper permits.
In the more recent case, Hammonds pleaded guilty in April to violating the Lacey act and the endangered species act. In addition to eight months home confinement, Hammond was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay a $90,000 fine.