The feds charged Jose Manuel Perez, a.k.a. “Julio Rodriguez,” 30 with one count of conspiracy, nine counts of smuggling goods into the United States and two counts of wildlife trafficking for allegedly importing into the United States more than 1,700 reptiles – including 60 reptiles found hidden in his clothes last month at the United States-Mexico border. The feds also charged his sister, Stephany Perez, 25, with conspiracy. weeks.
The feds accuse Jose Perez of crossing into the U.S. from Mexico by car at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on February 25 with about 60 reptiles, including lizards and snakes, hidden inside his jacket pockets, pants pockets, groin area, and pant legs. Perez initially denied he had anything to declare, but later said “the animals were his pets.”
From January 2016 to February 2022, the Perez siblings and their co-conspirators used social media to buy and to negotiate the terms of the sale and delivery of wildlife in the United States. The defendants allegedly advertised for sale on social media the animals smuggled from Mexico into the United States, posting photos and video that depicted the animals being collected from the wild. The animals – which included Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards – allegedly were imported into the United States from Mexico and Hong Kong without obtaining permits required by an international treaty known as the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). For the animals allegedly smuggled from Mexico, co-conspirators would retrieve the wildlife from Cuidad Juarez International Airport in Mexico and eventually ship the animals by car to El Paso, Texas. Jose Perez paid his co-conspirators a “crossing fee” for each border crossing – the amount of which depended on the number of animals transported, the size of the package, and the risk of being detected by the authorities.
Other times, Jose Perez and a co-conspirator traveled to Mexico to buy more live animals that had been taken from the wild so that the animals could be smuggled into the United States. Once the animals had been shipped to the United States, they were transported to Perez's then-residence in Missouri. But after Perez moved to California, the wildlife was shipped to his residence.
Stephany Perez allegedly assisted in the illegal wildlife smuggling business, particularly during two extended periods when her brother was incarcerated in the United States.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge. Jose Perez would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each smuggling count and five years in prison for each wildlife trafficking count. Jose Perez has been in federal custody since his arrest on February 25.