Man caught with dozens of lizards in his clothes charged with smuggling 1,700 reptiles into US

The man allegedly tried to walk across the US-Mexico border with 60 reptiles hidden on his person

Graig Graziosi
Friday 25 March 2022 21:09

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A 30-year-old man who allegedly smuggled more than 1,700 reptiles into the US from Mexico was indicted on federal charges on Thursday.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some of the animals were smuggled inside his clothing.

Jose Manuel Perez is facing two counts of wildlife trafficking, nine counts of smuggling goods into the US, and a count of conspiracy as he was allegedly transporting the animals for a black-market business.

Stephanie Perez, Mr Perez's sister, 25, was also charged with conspiracy.

According to prosecutors, Mr Prerez, his sister, and others used social media to buy, sell and arrange the delivery of wildlife in the US between January 2016 and February 2022.

Mr Perez was arrested on 25 February at the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana, Mexico and San Ysidro, California, just south of San Diego. When he was arrested, Mr Perez allegedly was hiding 60 reptiles in his jacket and pants pockets as well as his groin area and pant legs.

He reportedly initially told customs officials he did not have anything to declare, and when confronted about the animals claimed they were "his pets”.

The animals Mr Perez allegedly tried to bring into the US included Yucatan and Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles, and Mexican beaded lizards. Prosecutors claim the animals were imported from Mexico and Hong Kong without the required permits.

“The defendants allegedly advertised for sale on social media the animals smuggled from Mexico into the United States, posting photos and video that depicted the animals being collected from the wild,” the US attorney's office for the Central District of California said in a press release.

Some of the reptiles were reportedly received by unnamed co-conspirators at Ciudad Juarez International Airport in Mexico and then shipped by car to El Paso. Mr Perez paid the drivers a "crossing fee”, prosecutors claim.

The indictment claims that Mr Perez and another individual traveled to Mexico several times to buy more animals that had been taken from the wild to be smuggled into the US.

Once the animals were brought across the border they would allegedly be stored at Mr Perez's home, initially in Missouri and then later in Ventura County, California.

Mr Perez is facing up to 20 years in prison for each count of smuggling and five years in prison for each count of conspiracy and wildlife trafficking. His sister faces a maximum of five years in prison on her conspiracy charge.

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