Lizard Smuggling – Traveling and Wildlife Trafficking

January 10, 2022 Criminal Defense

When you receive a package in the mail, the last thing you would imagine to come out are a set of scaly lizards. In the case of one Miami man, this was exactly his intention. In fact, he flew all the way to Australia to capture and send back over a dozen lizards across the world.

Although Florida is known to have a wide variety of wildlife, there are strict laws enforced when people attempt to bring animals in and out of the state, and in and out of the country. Without proper declaration, there are harsh consequences for people who attempt to traffic wildlife. For the men involved in this particular case, they have been faced with serious legal penalties.

What happened?

Back in 2018, Jose Francesco Munoz Di Rocco and Francisco Manuel Rodriguez planned a trip to go to a western beach town in Australia called Broome. Their plan was to find local spiny-tailed skinks, a kind of lizard, that live in the area and bring them back into the United States. The native Australian reptiles are stout with tiny legs, long toes, and sharp teeth, and they slightly resemble small snakes with feet. They aimed to sell all of the skinks found and shipped.

In total the two were able to capture 33 live Australian skinks and secured the sales for $2,500 each. The two didn’t have any paperwork for the skinks, so instead decided to wrap the live lizards in a gift-wrapped boxes to avoid detection in the shipping. Of the 33 lizards, 20 were meant to ship into Miami, and 13 to Oregon.

It is not exactly clear when the Australian Border force and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caught onto the international lizard-smuggling arrangement. However, there are documents of money transfers between the two men for the only two known attempted sales of the skinks. Since it is against both U.S. and Australian law to import wildlife without declaration, the men involved are facing serious charges.

What are the Charges?

After getting caught by the authorities, Di Rocco and Francisco Manuel Rodriguez have plead guilty to a conspiracy charge for wildlife trafficking. The two are expected to be sentenced in February. The charge was a conspiracy of racketeering pursuant to  SB 776 that was passed in June, 2021. The newest chapter includes a section including certain actions relating to wild animal life, freshwater aquatic life, or marine life.

With the current charges, the men are facing fines up $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

What is Racketeering?

According to Florida Statute section 895, racketeering activity is when a person commits, attempts to commit, conspires to commit, solicits, coerces, or intimidates another person to commit any crime that is chargeable by petition, indictment, or information. Under this statute is Chapter 370, which pertains to the illegal sale, purchase, collection, harvest, capture, or possession of wild animal life, freshwater aquatic life, or marine life, and related crimes.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Trying to move animals around for yourself or as a gift isn’t inherently a crime. However, there are certain ways to go about it to ensure the activity is legal. If you or a loved one have been charged with a racketeering charge for trafficking wildlife, it is important to seek out a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area. Receiving the right legal advice can make a difference between getting hit with high fines and potential jail time or walking away free.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the knowledge and expertise to defend your case. They have worked with defendants charged with trafficking in the past and can help figure out the best possible defense pertaining to your case. Call (850) 681-7777 today and receive a free consultation.

 This article was written by Karissa Key

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