A 34-year-old California man, Rodrigo Franco, was arrested Tuesday on a federal smuggling charge after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities found a package containing three king cobras hidden inside potato chip cans. They also found three-soft shelled turtles in the same package which was sent to Franco from Hong Kong, according to the Department of Justice.
Special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took Franco in custody Tuesday. He was charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise into the U.S. which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison if convicted. He made his first appearance in court Tuesday. He is scheduled to be arraigned in August, Reuters reported.
The package was seized by CBP on March 2 when they discovered three live king cobras, each snake approximately 2-feet-long, according to court documents filed in the Central District of California.
King cobras can be as long as 18 feet, making them the longest of all venomous snakes, according to National Geographic.
“Their venom is not the most potent among venomous snakes, but the amount of neurotoxin they can deliver in a single bite—up to two-tenths of a fluid ounce—is enough to kill 20 people or even an elephant,” National Geographic stated.
According to the documents, on the same day, Franco allegedly tried to mail six turtles – desert box, three-toed box and ornate box turtles from the country to Hong Kong, but that shipment too was intercepted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, authorities said.
The three soft-shelled turtles were sent to Franco’s home in Monterey Park in California, according to Los Angeles Times.
The federal agents later executed a search warrant at Franco’s home and discovered alligator snapping turtles, tanks with a live baby Morelet’s crocodile, a common snapping turtle and five diamond back terrapins.
All the animals found in the shipments at Franco’s home were protected species under the country’s law, authorities said.
According to CBP’s website, crustaceans, mollusks, reptiles, coral, mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, insects, and other invertebrates are subjected to prohibitions, restrictions, permit and quarantine requirements.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned with the importation, trade, sale, and taking of wildlife and with protecting endangered plant and animal species. Some wild species of dogs, cats, turtles, reptiles, and birds, although imported as pets, may be listed as endangered. Endangered and threatened animals and plants, migratory birds, marine mammals, and certain dangerous wildlife may not be imported without special federal permits,” CBP noted.
There have been several other incidents when smugglers attempted to export snakes into the U.S. On June 29, CBP officials seized a package from Hong Kong at the John F. Kennedy International (JFK) Mail Facility. Called “plastic tray,” the package contained five juvenile king cobras and three geckos.
In August 2013, a snake expert from Tyler, Texas, was caught smuggling seven Peruvian snakes into the U.S. by hiding them under his jacket. William Lamar, 63, was caught at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport when a Transportation Security Administration officer caught hold of him while he was attempting to board a flight to Tyler, NBC 5 Dallas- Fort Worth News reported at the time.