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Press Release

Luxury Handbag Company, Founder and Co-Conspirator Sentenced for Smuggling Handbags Made from Caiman and Python Skin

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Luxury handbag company Gzuniga Ltd., its founder Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi and Gonzalez’s associate Mauricio Giraldo were sentenced to prison today for illegally importing merchandise from Colombia to the United States that was made from protected wildlife. All had previously pleaded guilty.

Gzuniga was ordered to forfeit all handbags and other previously seized product, banned for three years from any activities involving commercial trade in wildlife and sentenced to serve three years of probation. Gonzalez was sentenced to 18 months in prison with credit for time served, a supervised release of three years and to pay a special assessment. Giraldo was sentenced to time served, approximately 22 months based on incarceration in Colombia and the United States since his extradition, a year of supervised release and to pay a special assessment. Another co-conspirator, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, pleaded guilty on April 8 and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27. Gonzalez, Giraldo and Jaramillo are Colombian citizens and were extradited to the United States to face the charges brought against them.  

Nancy Gonzalez handbags on display at Gzuniga showroom
Photo is of handbags designed by Nancy Gonzalez and displayed in the Gzuniga Ltd. showroom. Photo is from Exhibit 3 to the government’s reply to objections to presentence report and sentencing memorandum in United States v. Gzuniga Ltd., et al., case number 22-CR-20170.

The caiman and python species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which both the United States and Colombia are signatories.

“The United States signed on to CITES in an effort to help protect threatened and endangered species here and abroad from trafficking,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will not tolerate illegal smuggling. We appreciate the efforts of our many federal and international partners who have helped with the investigation, extradition and prosecution of this case.”

“The United States, in company with the international community, has established a system for overseeing the trafficking in protected species of wildlife. That system relies on a system of permits and oversight by many agencies and demands strict compliance by all those engaged in such trade,” said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. “The press of business, production deadlines or other economic factors are not justification for anyone to knowingly flout the system and attempt to write their own exceptions to wildlife trafficking laws. In cooperation with our international partners, our Office will continue to require strict adherence to laws that protect our endangered species.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is deeply committed to combatting wildlife trafficking in all its forms. The Gonzalez case underscores the importance of robust collaboration with federal and international partners to disrupt illegal wildlife trade networks,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement. “This investigation uncovered a multi-year scheme that involved paid couriers smuggling undeclared handbags made of CITES-protected reptile skins into the U.S. to be sold for thousands of dollars. The Service will continue to seek justice for protected species exploited for profit, and we will hold accountable those who seek to circumvent international controls meant to regulate their sustainable trade.”

An indictment charged Gzuniga, Gonzalez, Giraldo and Jaramillo with one count of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling for illegally importing designer handbags made from caiman and python skin from February 2016 to April 2019.

The conspirators brought hundreds of designer purses, handbags and totes into the United States by enlisting friends, relatives and even employees of Gonzalez’s manufacturing company in Colombia to wear the designer handbags or put them in their luggage while traveling on passenger airlines. Once in the United States, the bags were delivered or shipped to the Gzuniga showroom New York to be displayed and sold.

The USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream, New York, investigated the case, with the assistance of the Miami Resident Agent in Charge Office of USFWS. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS) Judicial Attaché Office in Bogotá, Colombia, provided valuable assistance with securing the arrest and extradition of Gonzalez, Giraldo and Jaramillo. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations were instrumental in supporting the case. The United States also thanks Colombian law enforcement authorities for their valuable assistance and close collaboration and partnership.

Senior Trial Attorney R.J. Powers of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald for the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.

Updated April 22, 2024

Press Release Number: 24-487