LOS ANGELES – A Monterey Park man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a smuggling charge stemming from the seizure of three king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters.
Rodrigo Franco, 35, was sentenced Monday morning by United States District Judge George H. Wu. In addition to the prison term, Judge Wu ordered Franco to pay a $4,500 fine and to serve two years of supervised release after he is released from prison.
Franco was sentenced after pleading guilty in September to one count of wildlife smuggling. In a plea agreement filed in United States District Court, Franco admitted that he was responsible for three illegal shipments of king cobras that contained approximately 23 snakes.
In a sentencing memorandum filed earlier this month, prosecutors pointed out two key issues with the illegal smuggling: “King Cobras are venomous snakes that are: (1) legally protected because they are a vulnerable species at risk for extinction; and (2) deadly because they possess lethal venom that can kill an adult within 30 minutes if the person is bitten and anti-venom is not available (and, at the time of the offense, there was no known King Cobra anti-venom in Los Angeles).”
According to court documents, United States Customs and Border Protection in March 2017 intercepted a package sent from Hong Kong and discovered three live king cobra snakes, each of which was approximately two-feet long. In addition to the three snakes, the parcel contained three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles.
On the same date, March 2, Franco mailed six protected turtles from the United States to Hong Kong, but that shipment also was intercepted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Because of the danger associated with the cobras, the snakes were seized from the package that had come from Hong Kong. The United States Postal Inspection Service made a controlled delivery of the soft-shelled turtles to Franco's residence. During a subsequent interview with authorities, Franco admitted that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two prior shipments – but he said all of those snakes had died in transit.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Office of Law Enforcement; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations; and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
The case against Franco was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.
Component(s): USAO – California, Central
Contact: Thom Mrozek Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer United States Attorney's Office Central District of California (Los Angeles) 213-894-6947
Press Release Number: 18-009 Updated January 23, 2018
Central District of California DOJ / 18-74 / January 23, 2018
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