Man caught carrying reptiles in clothing pleads guilty to smuggling

U.S. Department of Justice

(LOS ANGELES) — A California man has pleaded guilty to importing wild animals into the country, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Jose Manuel Perez, 30, smuggled more than 1,700 wild animals, including 60 reptiles, worth $739,000 into the U.S. and was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border in February. Officials found reptiles hidden in his clothing in small bags, prosecutors said.

When he was caught crossing into the U.S., federal agents said he had about 60 reptiles on him — including some in his pants.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods into the country and one count of wild trafficking, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Perez, who also went by the name Julio Rodriguez, used social media to arrange and smuggle animals into the U.S. between January 2016 and February 2022, federal prosecutors said.

The wildlife, which came from Mexico and Hong Kong, included Yucatan box turtles, baby crocodiles, Mexican box turtles and beaded lizards, federal prosecutors said, and he didn’t declare them through U.S. Customs or obtain the required permits through the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Perez worked with others in his smuggling operation, according to federal prosecutors. His sister, Stephany Perez, 26, was allegedly involved and is scheduled to go on trial in February, prosecutors said.

Jose Manuel Perez faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for each count of smuggling and up to five years in prison for wildlife trafficking, according to federal prosecutors.

His attorney did not immediately provide a comment to ABC News.

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