A 30-year-old Oxnard man has pleaded guilty to allegations he smuggled hundreds of reptiles into the United States, including 60 reptiles that were in his clothes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Jose Manuel Perez, who also is known by the name “Julio Rodriguez,” used social media to coordinate the illegal imports of animals like the Yucatan box turtle, Mexican box turtle and Mexican beaded lizard for more than six years before he was caught at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, the DOJ said in a news release.
Perez often hired others to take the animals across the U.S.-Mexico border by car after flying animals from Hong Kong and elsewhere in Mexico to the Cuidad Juarez International Airport, although dozens of times, he made the trip himself, authorities said.
On one such occasion in February, he was arrested at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and live reptiles contained in tied-up bags “were concealed in the man’s jacket, pants pockets, and groin area,” officials said at the time.
Three of those animals died as a result of the smuggling attempt, the DOJ said.
After successful trips, the animals were brought to Perez’s Ventura County home, where he “resold the animals to customers across the United States,” authorities said, adding that the more than 1,700 creatures had a total estimated value of about $739,000.
He was initially charged with 11 counts of smuggling and wildlife trafficking, as well as a conspiracy charge with his sister, Stephany Perez, officials said in March.
On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to three charges: two counts of smuggling goods into the U.S. and a count of wildlife trafficking. Stephany Perez, meanwhile, will go on trial beginning in February.
Jose Perez will be sentenced on Dec. 1 and faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count, and up to five years on the wildlife trafficking charge.
Perez’s guilty plea comes just a few months after he attempted to escape custody while free on bond, authorities said.
“On June 5, the day before a court hearing he had requested, Perez removed his ankle bracelet used for court-ordered location monitoring and fled to Tijuana. On June 16, Perez was apprehended in Mexico. Perez was returned to the United States on June 16 and has remained in custody since then,” the release added.