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Californian Jose Manuel Perez has been accused of smuggling 1,700 reptiles from Mexico to the United States

A California man accused of smuggling thousands of reptiles from Mexico to the United States over a six-year period was charged in the case Thursday — about a month after he was found on the southern border with some of the creepy crawlies in his Hose had been arrested.

Jose Manuel Perez, 30, was arrested by Border Patrol agents on February 25 as he attempted to cross the San Ysidro port of entry in his car, US Attorney’s Office officials said.

Agents discovered about 60 bearded lizards, baby crocodiles and snakes hidden in his jacket and pockets — and even in his groin, according to prosecutors.

A substitute indictment filed Thursday claimed Perez, of Oxnard, Calif., tried to smuggle the reptiles by tying them up in small bags and stuffing the live animals down his pants.

Perez reportedly told border guards that the reptiles were his pets.

Federal prosecutors allege that Perez and his sister Stephany worked with a network of “middlemen” to smuggle more than 1,700 animals into the United States from January 2016 to around February 25, 2022, according to the substitute indictment.

Prosecutors estimate the total market value of the wildlife at more than $739,000.

The animals — including Yucatan box turtles, baby crocodiles and Mexican bearded lizards — were imported into the United States from Mexico and Hong Kong without requiring the appropriate permits under an international treaty, officials said.

Perez was charged with one count of conspiracy with 14 counts, nine counts of smuggling goods into the United States, and two counts of illegal wildlife trafficking. He is expected to be charged on March 28.

Horned lizards found during a smuggling attempt on the San Diego, California border.
Horned lizards found during a smuggling attempt on the San Diego, California border.
AP

Stephany Perez, 25, has been charged with conspiracy and faces charges in the next few weeks, federal authorities said.

The Perez siblings allegedly worked with their co-conspirators to negotiate sales via social media and arranged for the wildlife to be transported to Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez International Airport.

The animals were then transported by car to El Paso, Texas, by their co-conspirators, who allegedly received “passing fees” each time they made it across the border with the live animals.

According to the indictment, one of the alleged co-conspirators corresponded with Jose Perez on January 14, 2016 and said handling 12 turtles was “quite an ordeal” because “the box is quite heavy, and on top of that those chopos (turtles) bite hard.”

The siblings’ network of co-conspirators included smugglers in Mexico, Indiana, Florida, and even Perez’s girlfriend, according to the indictment.

The animals were transported to Perez’s Missouri residence, but after he moved to California, the animals were shipped to his home in Oxnard.

The siblings reportedly used social media to sell the reptiles, some of which are protected and endangered species, authorities said.

If convicted on all counts, the defendants could face a maximum statutory sentence of five years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge.

Jose Perez could face a maximum legal sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of smuggling and five years in prison for each count of wildlife trafficking, officials said.

https://nypost.com/2022/03/25/california-man-jose-manuel-perez-charged-with-smuggling-1700-reptiles-into-us-from-mexico/ Californian Jose Manuel Perez has been accused of smuggling 1,700 reptiles from Mexico to the United States

JACLYN DIAZ

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