A Southern California man is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles — including baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards — into the U.S. since 2016, authorities said Thursday. Jose Manuel Perez, also known as “Julio Rodriguez,” was taken into custody on Feb. 25 at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico.
After initially denying to customs officials that he had anything to declare, Perez later told them that “the animals were his pets,” the indictment alleges.
Perez, 30, of Oxnard, has been in federal custody since then and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles on Thursday announced additional charges on a superseding indictment that also includes Perez’s sister as a defendant.
Perez is scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles on Monday. His federal attorney in San Diego declined to comment Thursday. Some of the smuggled reptiles were protected and endangered species, authorities said.
Beginning January 2016, Perez and his sister, as well as others, are accused of using social media to buy and sell wildlife in the U.S. The animals, including Yucatan and Mexican box turtles, were allegedly imported from Mexico and Hong Kong without permits.
The reptiles were initially taken to Perez’s home in Missouri but later shipped to Oxnard when he moved to California, authorities said. His sister assisted him in the smuggling business, prosecutors alleged, especially during times when Perez was incarcerated in the U.S.
“Smugglers will try every possible way to try and get their product, or in this case live reptiles, across the border,” Sidney Aki, Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in San Diego, said earlier this month. “In this occasion, the smuggler attempted to deceive CBP officers in order to bring these animals into the U.S., without taking care for the health and safety of the animals.”
|This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows horned lizards found during a smuggling attempt at the San Diego, Calif., border.|