A man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally smuggle more than 1,700 wild animals into the United States from Mexico and Hong Kong.
Jose Manuel Perez, 30, of Oxnard, pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods into the country, and one count of wildlife trafficking. U.S Customs and border patrol caught Perez earlier this year attempting to smuggle 60 reptiles through the U.S-Mexico border by concealing them in his clothing.
Federal prosecutors said Perez and his accomplices used social media to make smuggling arrangements for the wildlife. Authorities found that Perez illegally smuggled Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles, and Mexican beaded lizards without declaring them to U.S. Customs officials or obtaining required permits under the Convention on the International Trade and Endangered Specials of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Law enforcement estimates that the wildlife smuggled by Perez had a total market value exceeding $739,000.
Perez’s accomplices retrieved the wildlife from Ciudad Juarez International Airport in Mexico and smuggled the animals by car to El Paso, Texas. Perez’s accomplices were paid a “crossing fee” for each border crossing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
He then had the animals shipped to his family’s residence in Ventura County, where he resold the animals to customers across the United States.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, rented a house in Tijuana and crossed into the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry approximately 36 times from February 2021 to February 2022. On February 25, 2022, Perez was arrested while attempting to enter the United States with 60 reptiles hidden in his clothing in small bags.
Three of the reptiles died during the smuggling attempt.
In June, Perez fled to Tijuana while out on bond. Authorities captured and returned him to the U.S. Federal prosecutors said he could face up to 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count when he’s sentenced on Dec. 1.