Authorities Charge Siblings in Reptile Smuggling Scheme

30-year-old Calif. man caught at Mexican border allegedly smuggled 1.7K creatures since 2016
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 25, 2022 10:43 AM CDT
Authorities: Man Smuggled 1.7K Reptiles Into US
This undated file photo provided by US Customs and Border Protection shows horned lizards found during a smuggling attempt at the San Diego, Calif., border.   (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP, File)

A California man who allegedly tried to cross into the US from Mexico last month with dozens of reptiles crammed under his clothing has been charged, and authorities say he was involved in a yearslong scheme. Per NBC San Diego, 30-year-old Jose Manuel Perez, aka Julio Rodriguez, is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles—including snakes, baby crocodiles, and Yucatan box turtles—into the US since 2016. Indicted alongside Perez—who Border Patrol agents said originally told them the animals they found on him on Feb. 25 were pets—was his sister, Stephany Perez, 25. KTLA reports she is accused of assisting her brother in the scheme, particularly during two periods in which he was incarcerated.

The indictment alleges the siblings used social media to try to sell the creatures they smuggled in, many of them endangered and protected species from Mexico and Hong Kong. Jose Perez was charged with conspiracy, smuggling goods into the US, and wildlife trafficking; his sister was charged with conspiracy. If convicted, the conspiracy and wildlife trafficking counts carry a sentence of up to five years each; each smuggling count (Jose Perez has been charged with nine such counts) carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (Read more smuggling stories.)

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