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Californian man accused of smuggling 3 king cobras in crisp cans

There were also three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the package, US authorities said.

One of three king cobras that were hidden in a crisp can and mailed to a Los Angeles home.
One of three king cobras that were hidden in a crisp can and mailed to a Los Angeles home.
Image: US Fish and Wildlife via AP Photo

A MAN WAS arrested on smuggling charges today after customs officers intercepted a shipment with three live king cobras hidden inside crisp canisters that were being mailed to his California home, US prosecutors said.

Rodrigo Franco, aged 34, was scheduled to be arraigned yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles on a charge of illegally importing merchandise. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

The three king cobra snakes – each just over half a metre long – were found in March when Customs and Border Protection officers inspected a package that was mailed from Hong Kong, prosecutors said.

There were also three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the package, authorities said.

Federal agents removed the cobras but delivered the turtles to Franco’s home in Monterey Park.

The agents later served a search warrant there and found tanks with a live baby Morelet’s crocodile, alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle, and five diamond back terrapins.

Prosecutors say all of the reptiles are protected under US law.

Franco admitted to an agent from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two other shipments, but he said they all died in transit, according to court documents.

Federal agents also searched Franco’s phone and found that he exchanged messages with an individual in Asia about shipping turtles and snakes between Hong Kong and the US, prosecutors said.

Franco said in those messages that he had previously received live cobras and planned to give five of the snakes to a relative of the contact in Virginia, court papers said.

If convicted, Franco faces up to 20 years in prison.

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