A California man is facing decades behind bars for his alleged involvement in illegal wildlife trade.
According to the Justice Department, 30-year-old Jose Manuel Perez—aka “Julio Rodriguez”—was arrested last month after he tried to smuggle dozens of reptiles from Mexico into the U.S. Federal agents say the Oxford resident was stopped at the border, and was found with approximately 60 critters in small, tied-up bags concealed under his clothes. When questioned about the animals, which included snakes and lizards, Perez allegedly told customs they “were his pets,” however, prosecutors say it was eventually determined that Perez had spent years trafficking reptiles into the country from Mexico and Hong Kong.
On Thursday, Perez was hit with additional charges in a superseding indictment, which also lists his sister, 25-year-old Stephany Perez, as a co-defendant. Authorities accused the siblings and their co-conspirators of using social media to buy and sell reptiles from January 2016 to February 2022. The animals reportedly included Yucatan box turtles, Mexican beaded lizards, and baby crocodiles—all of which were imported without the required permits.
If convicted of conspiracy charges, Jose and Stephany will face a maximum five-year prison sentence. Jose, who is also charged with nine counts of smuggling goods into the country and two counts of wildlife trafficking, may face “a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each smuggling count and five years in prison for each wildlife trafficking count,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Jose is scheduled to be arraigned on March 28. Stephany is expected to be arraigned in the upcoming weeks.