A California man pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking after smuggling more than 1,700 animals in the U.S.
Jose Manuel Perez, a.k.a. “Julio Rodriguez,” 30, smuggled the animals in from January 2016 to February 2022.
He was taken into custody on Feb. 25 when border patrol agents found roughly 60 lizards and snakes concealed in his clothing.
Perez pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods into the U.S. and one count of wildlife trafficking, according to the Department of Justice.
Some of the animals Perez smuggled into the country include Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards.
A press release from the DOJ states that the animals were smuggled from Mexico and Hong Kong.
“For the animals smuggled from Mexico, Perez’s accomplices retrieved the wildlife from Ciudad Juarez International Airport in Mexico and smuggled the animals by car to El Paso,” DOJ officials said. “Perez then had the animals shipped to his family’s residence in Ventura County.”
His accomplices were paid a crossing fee for each border crossing and the amount was dependent on how many animals were smuggled and the size of the container they were in.
Law enforcement estimates that the wildlife smuggled by Perez had a total market value exceeding $739,000.
Stephany Perez, 26, Perez’s sister and co-defendant, is scheduled to go on trial in this case in February 2023.