A California man who smuggled more than 1,700 wild animals into the United States, including 60 reptiles hidden in his clothing, has pleaded guilty to federal charges.
José Manuel Perez, 30, of Oxnard, pleaded guilty to two counts of contraband and one count of wildlife trafficking.
Prosecutors said that from 2016 until this February, Perez and his accomplices used social media to organize the smuggling of animals from Mexico and Hong Kong.
Most were reptiles and included Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, alligators and Mexican pearl lizards, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.
It is illegal to import the animals without permission under an international treaty on trade in endangered species, the DOJ said.
Perez paid accomplices a transit fee to drive animals from Mexico to El Paso, Texas, where he shipped them to his family’s Ventura County home and resold them to customers across the United States, they said. the authorities
He also made about three dozen trips to Mexico to collect animals, and on Feb. 25 he was arrested while trying to enter the United States with 60 reptiles hidden in the pockets of his clothing, prosecutors said.
Three of the reptiles died.
The smuggled reptiles were worth about US$739,000, authorities estimated.
Perez fled to Tijuana in June while out on bail, but was quickly captured and returned to the United States. He could face up to 20 years in federal prison on each smuggling charge when he is sentenced on Dec. 1.