Man arrested after king cobras shipped in chip cans

By Ben Hooper  |  July 26, 2017 at 8:47 AM
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July 26 (UPI) -- A California man was arrested on federal smuggling charges after a package was seized containing three live king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California said the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement arrested Rodrigo Franco, 34, on Tuesday morning after he was named in a criminal complaint filed Friday.

The affidavit filmed in support of the complaint said U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel inspected a package that arrived from Hong Kong on March 2 and discovered three king cobras, each about 2 feet long, inside potato chip cans within the package.

The package, shipped through the U.S. Postal Service, also contained three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles, the affidavit states.

Investigators said Franco mailed a package that same day that contained six protected turtles, including desert box turtles, three-toed box turtles and ornate box turtles. The package was addressed to Hong Kong, but was intercepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted a controlled delivery of the soft-shelled turtles to Franco's residence, and agents with the USFWS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations followed to execute a search warrant at the home.

The delivered package was found in a child's bedroom, where agents also found tanks containing a baby Morelet's crocodile, alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle and five diamondback terrapins. All of the reptiles are protected species, officials said.

Franco told agents during an interview that he previously received 20 king cobras in two previous packages, but the snakes all died in transit.

Franco was charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise into the United States.

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