Lee County, Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Smuggle Turtles to Germany and Hong Kong and Falsely Labeling the Turtles on Related Paperwork
MIAMI – Gzuniga Ltd., and its founder, Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi, 70, entered guilty pleas today to federal charges arising from the illegal importation of merchandise made from wildlife into the United States from Colombia.
Gzuniga and Gonzalez each pleaded guilty to the charges in the indictment naming them and two other individuals with one count of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling for repeated illegal importation of designer handbags made from caiman and python skin from February 2016 to April 2019. Both 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. Gonzalez, a citizen of Colombia, was recently extradited to the United States to face the charges brought against her.
The defendants entered their guilty pleas before United States District Court Judge Robert Scola. Judge Scola set sentencing for both defendants for Feb. 5, 2024, at 9:00 a.m. in Miami. Gonzalez faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years in prison on each of the smuggling charges, which may be followed by a term of supervised release. In addition, she faces potential fines of up to $250,000 on each count, or twice the intended gain from the relevant conduct, whichever is greater. Gzuniga faces potential fines of $500,000 on each of the three counts of conviction, or twice the intended gain from the relevant conduct, whichever is greater.
The defendants solicited friends, relatives, and employees of Gonzalez’s manufacturing company in Colombia to act as couriers and transport designer handbags on their person or in their luggage while traveling on passenger airlines. Once the designer handbags were smuggled into the United States, they were delivered or shipped to the Gzuniga showroom in Manhattan, New York, where they were put on display for high-end retailers to view and purchase for re-sale in their stores. The conduct involved hundreds of purses, handbags, and totes. The average retail price for these “Nancy Gonzalez” brand handbags was over $2,000.
An additional defendant in the case was also extradited from Colombia and is awaiting trial. A fourth defendant is not currently in custody.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, announced the guilty pleas.
The USFWS Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream, New York conducted the investigation 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 de Barberi. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) was instrumental in supporting the case. The United States also thanks Colombian law enforcement authorities for their valuable assistance and close collaboration and partnership.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Senior Trial Attorney R.J. Powers of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.
A criminal complaint contains mere allegations, and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov, under case number 22-cr-20170.
Public Affairs Unit
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida