Man Who Smuggled 60 Snakes and Reptiles in His Pants Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges
He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
By nature, a smuggler's primary goal is not to get caught. Especially if what you're smuggling is highly unusual, in which case, you're not just caught, you're viral news. That's what happened to a man who is charged with smuggling hundreds of reptiles into the U.S.—including 60 in his pants. Read on to find out how he tried to explain that to the authorities, and what he's facing now.
Jose Manual Perez of Oxnard, California, has pleaded guilty to charges he smuggled hundreds of reptiles into the country, including those 60 reptiles in his pants, KTLA reported last week. The 30-year-old, who is also known as Julio Rodriguez, used social media to arrange illegal imports of animals such as baby crocodiles, the Mexican box turtle and Mexican beaded lizard for more than six years. He didn't declare them through U.S. Customs or obtain the required permits through the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Officials said that Perez would be flying animals from Hong Kong and various parts of Mexico to the Cuidad Juarez International Airport. He often hired others to smuggle the animals into the U.S. via car. But many times did so himself, including a fateful occasion in February when he was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border on the San Ysidro Port of Entry. There, officials found that live reptiles in bags "were concealed in the man's jacket, pants pockets, and groin area." Three of those animals later died.
When he was arrested, Perez said the 60 concealed creatures were his pets, authorities said. "Smugglers will try every possible way to try and get their product, or in this case live reptiles, across the border," said Sidney Aki, Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in San Diego. "In this occasion, the smuggler attempted to deceive CBP officers in order to bring these animals into the U.S., without taking care for the health and safety of the animals."
Perez would bring the smuggled animals to his Ventura County home, where he resold them to customers across the country. Authorities said he sold more than 1,700 of them, at a total value of nearly $739,000. Perez was charged with 11 counts of smuggling and wildlife trafficking in March, KTLA reported. Last week, he pleaded guilty to three charges: two counts of smuggling goods into the U.S. and a count of wildlife trafficking.
Perez's sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 1. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count, and up to five years for the wildlife trafficking charge. Authorities said that a few months ago, while free on bond, Perez had tried to escape. "On June 5, the day before a court hearing he had requested, Perez removed his ankle bracelet used for court-ordered location monitoring and fled to Tijuana. On June 16, Perez was apprehended in Mexico. Perez was returned to the United States on June 16 and has remained in custody since then," the Justice Department said.