Man busted sneaking nearly 2,000 animals such as baby crocodiles through airport

A man who tried to smuggle more than 1,700 wild animals hidden in his clothes through an airport has pleaded guilty to federal charges.

The Californian man, from the coastal city of Oxnard, illegally imported the creatures mainly from Mexico, with the animals believed to have a market value of more than $739,000 (£633,000).

Jose Manuel Perez, who also goes by the name of Julio Rodriguez, has pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods and one count of wildlife trafficking.

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According to a plea agreement, it was also heard in court that Perez and his accomplices used social media from 2016 to February this year to organise the smuggling of the animals, which were primarily reptiles.

Included among the reptiles that were sourced from Mexico and Hong Kong were baby crocodiles, Mexican beaded lizards and Yucatan and Mexican box turtles.

They were imported without the required permits or customs declarations and were driven across the border into the US by car.

They were then delivered to Perez's home, northwest of Los Angeles and he sold them to customers across the country, using his Julio Rodriguez alias.

During a one-year period from February 2021, Perez also crossed the US border at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego about 36 times, having rented a house in Tijuana.

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He was eventually arrested in an attempt to cross the border on February 25 this year when he was found with 60 reptiles hidden in small bags in his jacket, trouser pockets and groin area.

Released on bond in May, Perez fled to Mexico the following month after removing his ankle tag, but was caught 11 days later and has been in US custody ever since.

He is facing a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count and a further five years for the wildlife trafficking charge.

His sister and co-defendant, Stephany Perez, 26, also of Oxnard, is also scheduled to go on trial next year.


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