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Snakes, crocodiles and lizards, oh my! Feds say man caught smuggling 1,700 reptiles into U.S.

When Jose Manuel Perez was caught with dozens of reptiles hidden in his clothes, he told border agents in California they were his pets, federal investigators said.
Credit: USDOJ
Border agents said Jose Manuel Perez got caught last month trying to sneak 60 reptiles hidden in his clothes into California.

LOS ANGELES — A California man is in big trouble with the feds after he allegedly smuggled more than 1,700 reptiles into the United States from Mexico. 

Border agents said Jose Manuel Perez was caught last month trying to sneak 60 reptiles hidden in his clothes into California. 

Dozens of lizards and snakes were hidden in his pockets, pant legs, and groin area, according to investigators. They said Perez initially denied he had anything to declare, and then claimed the animals were his pets.

But those creepy, crawly critters barely scratched the surface. Federal investigators say Perez had been running a massive animal smuggling operation for years. 

Perez, 30, is charged with one count of conspiracy, nine counts of smuggling goods into the United States, and two counts of wildlife trafficking. His sister, Stephany Perez, 25, is also charged with conspiracy. 

Along with snakes, feds say the 1,700 animals included baby crocodiles, Mexican beaded lizards, Yucatan box turtles, and Mexican box turtles illegally imported into the U.S. from Mexico and Hong Kong.

According to the indictment, the Perez siblings and their co-conspirators used social media to buy and sell the wildlife from 2016 to 2022. The defendants allegedly posted photos and video that depicted the animals being collected from the wild.

After smuggling them into California, they were driven to El Paso, according to the indictment.      

If convicted, Jose Perez could get up to 20 years in prison for each smuggling count, five years for each wildlife trafficking count, and up to five years for conspiracy. 

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