A California man has been accused of smuggling more than a thousand reptiles, some of which are endangered, into the United States.
Jose Manuel Perez, 30, of Oxnard, also known as ‘Julio Rodriguez’, has been charged with one count of conspiracy, nine counts of smuggling goods into the United States and two counts of trafficking in wildlife, according to a statement from the Ministry of Justice. .
Perez was arrested when he allegedly tried to cross the US-Mexico border in February with about 60 reptiles hidden in his clothes, authorities said.
Authorities said Perez first denied having anything to declare at the border, then said the animals were his pets.
In total, Perez illegally imported more than 1,700 animals with a total value “in excess of $739,000,” according to the indictment, which was reviewed by CNN.
Perez is scheduled to be arraigned on March 28 in United States District Court in Los Angeles, according to the Justice Department. His San Diego attorney, Jack Notar, told CNN he had no comment at this time.
If convicted, Perez could face up to 20 years in prison for each smuggling count and five years in prison for each wildlife trafficking count.
The indictment alleges from 2016 to at least 2021, Perez, along with his sister, Stephany, and at least five co-conspirators in the United States and Mexico, illegally smuggled and sold reptiles, some of which were were wild-caught in Mexico, some of which were imported from Hong Kong. From Perez’s home, first in Missouri and then in California, the animals were then believed to have been shipped to customers across the country.
Perez allegedly illegally imported baby crocodiles, Yucatán box turtles, Mexican box turtles, Mexican beaded lizards, among other species, from Mexico and Hong Kong, without the necessary permits.
The indictment also alleges that Perez wrote posts on his social media accounts publicly bragging about capturing wild reptiles while traveling in Mexico. Both siblings reportedly used social media to advertise reptiles for sale and communicate with buyers.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty designed to ensure that trade in exotic animals does not threaten their survival in the wild, protects over 35,000 species of animals and plants. In the United States, CITES is implemented through the Endangered Species Act, which requires special “foreign export permits” for certain species.