Oxnard man pleads guilty to smuggling over 1,700 reptiles into US from Mexico

Snakes in bags (left) and Horned lizards (right) found during a smuggling attempt at the San Diego border. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol 

An Oxnard man pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges in a wildlife smuggling case that included entering the United States with reptiles hidden in his clothes, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Jose Manuel Perez, 30, pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods into the U.S. and one count of wildlife trafficking, officials said. 

He was arrested on Feb. 25 while trying to enter the U.S. with 60 reptiles hidden in small bags in his clothing, authorities said. Three of the animals died during the attempt. Border Patrol agents found the reptiles hidden in his jacket, pants pockets and groin area, authorities said.

Perez was released on bond in May, then removed his ankle bracelet on June 5 and fled to Mexico, prosecutors said, the day before a court hearing. He was captured in Mexico nearly two weeks later and returned to the U.S., where he has since remained in custody.

According to the attorney's office, more than 1,700 wild animals were illegally imported, most of them brought into the U.S. from Mexico. Authorities estimate the smuggled creatures were worth more than $739,000.


The smuggling happened over a six-year period, with Perez and his accomplices using social media to orchestrate the smuggling of the animals, mostly reptiles, into the U.S., officials added. 

Baby crocodiles, Mexican beaded lizards and Yucatan and Mexican box turtles were among the reptiles brought from Mexico and Hong Kong without required permits or customs declarations, prosecutors said.

For the animals smuggled from Mexico, accomplices picked up wildlife at an airport in Ciudad Juárez and drove them by car to El Paso, Texas, according to prosecutors. Accomplices were paid a crossing fee for each trip.

The animals were then shipped to Perez's home in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles. He resold the animals to customers across the country using the alias Julio Rodriguez, authorities said.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 1 and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count, as well as up to five years for the wildlife trafficking charge, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

His sister and codefendant, Stephany Perez, 26, of Oxnard, is scheduled to go on trial in the case in February 2023.