Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Snakes

NBC Bay Area reports Thursday how a man accused of smuggling venomous snakes has just pleaded guilty to this and other crimes.

The Monterey Park man, Rodrigo Franco, admitted to smuggling around 20 cobras in potato chip canisters, as well as shipping turtles to Hong Kong. He admitted this in the form of a plea agreement, meaning the prosecutor will be seeking no more than 18 months in jail for the smuggling. His current sentencing date was set by U.S. District Judge George Wu for December 7 in Los Angeles.

Franco was first suspected of smuggling animals after a Hong Kong-based package was inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in March, finding three king cobras coiled up inside the canisters. Additionally, the parcel contained a trio of live albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles, a protected species.

The same day the packages arrived in the country, Franco was identified as mailing a group of six turtles (desert box turtles, ornate box turtles, and three-toed box turtles) to Hong Kong, only to have the package intercepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The snakes and turtles were seized by the postal service the turtles' package being delivered on schedule as a ploy to catch Franco. After its delivery, a search warrant was carried out and he was arrested at his home.

While investigating the house, authorities found many other protected species kept there with evidence they were shipped to his home from Hong Kong, the same as the snakes and turtles. In total, they were able to find and recover alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle, five diamond back terrapins, and a baby crocodile.

According to Franco, he had previously gotten 20 more snakes through two different shipments from Hong Kong, though all of them had died by the time they reached his home. These claims were corroborated by phone records on Franco's phone, detailing a correspondence with someone located in Asia discussing how they would ship the animals between the two continents, with plans to deliver some of them to the contact's relatives in America.

The animals are currently in custody and safe. There is currently no name or details released for who Franco's alleged partner may be or what course of action police plan to take regarding the smugglers.