Monterey Park Man Sentenced to Prison for Smuggling King Cobras in Potato Chip Containers Into U.S.

A Monterey Park man who smuggled three king cobaras hidden in potato chip containers into the United States has been sentenced to five months in federal prison, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Rodrigo Franco, 35, pleaded guilty to one count of wildlife smuggling in September. On Monday, he was ordered to pay a $4,500 fine and to serve two years of supervised release after his five-month prison term, federal prosecutors said.

One of the king cobra snakes that Rodrigo Franco tried smuggling into the U.S. from China is seen here in a still from undated video footage. (Credit: Department of Justice)

One of the king cobra snakes that Rodrigo Franco tried smuggling into the U.S. from China is seen here in a still from undated video footage. (Credit: Department of Justice)

Franco admitted to being responsible for three illegal shipments of king cobras involving an estimated 23 snakes, in a plea deal with federal prosecutors, officials said. The packages contained three live king cobras — each about two feet long — along with three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles and they came in from Hong Kong in March 2017.

“Reptiles are my passion,” Franco, an ex-auto mechanic, wrote to the judge sentencing him, the Associated Press reported.

The soft-shelled turtles were taken by officials to Franco’s home while the snakes were seized by federal officials.

The same day of that discovery, Franco had attempted to mail six protected turtles from the U.S. to Hong Kong but that shipment was stopped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Franco later admitted he received 20 king cobras in two other previous shipments, but all the snakes had died while being shipped, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors noted the seriousness of the smuggling crimes by explaining king cobras are venomous snakes that are also legally protected since they are at risk for extinction. It was also noted that the lethal venom of one of the snakes is able to kill an adult “within 30 minutes if the person is bitten and anti-venom is not available,” federal prosecutors said in a news release.

They also noted that no known King Cobra anti-venom was available in Los Angeles at the time of the smuggling incidents.