An Oxnard man pleaded guilty Wednesday to smuggling more than 1,700 wild animals into the United States from Mexico.
Jose Manuel Perez, also known as Julio Rodriguez, pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling goods into the United States and one count of wildlife trafficking. He was initially arrested in February and freed after posting bail, but cut off his ankle bracelet in June and fled to Tijuana. He was caught in Mexico about two weeks later and has been in custody since then.
According to his plea agreement, the 30-year-old Oxnard man and his accomplices used social media to coordinate the smuggling of wildlife, primarily reptiles, between January 2016 and February 2022. The animals included Yucatan box turtles, Mexican box turtles, baby crocodiles, and Mexican bearded lizards from Mexico and Hong Kong, and were not declared to U.S. Customs officials as required by international treaty.
Animals were at times retrieved from Cuidad Juarez International Airport in Mexico and driven by car to El Paso, Texas, where the accomplices would be paid a fee for each border crossing, according to his plea agreement. From there, the animals were shipped to his family's home in Ventura County, where he would resell the animals to customers across the United States using the alias "Julio Rodriguez." On other occasions, Perez went to Mexico himself.
Prosecutors say Perez would rent a house in Tijuana and crossed into the U.S. from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry about 36 times. He was arrested on Feb. 25 at the border with 60 reptiles on his person, hidden in his clothes in small bags.Three of the reptiles died during this smuggling attempt.
The total market value of the wildlife smuggled by Perez is estimated to exceed $739,000.
He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each smuggling count and up to five years for the wildlife trafficking count when he is sentenced on Dec. 1. His sister, 26-year-old Stephany Perez, also of Oxnard, is scheduled to go on trial in this case in February of next year.
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