A Texas man pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Western District of Texas on charges of conspiring to traffic thousands of live reptiles, amphibians, and birds, valued in excess of $3.5 million.
Alejandro Carrillo of El Paso, Texas, pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones for the Western District of Texas. Sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 16.
“Carrillo’s arrest and his removal from the trafficking network demonstrates that the Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce laws designed to protect wildlife,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This is a continuing investigation and reflects the seriousness with which we regard these activities and our commitment to hold accountable those who break the law.”
“This investigation has exposed a highly coordinated wildlife trafficking ring responsible for the smuggling of wild caught reptiles destined to collectors and the commercial trade across the U.S. and globe,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director for Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “The number of animals suspected of being smuggled is in the tens of thousands. Reptiles, amphibians and other protected wildlife already face enough environmental stressors worldwide. This case goes a long way to slow the impacts of wildlife trafficking on species that are under protection of the Endangered Species Act and CITES.”
According to documents filed with the court, beginning in 2016, the FWS undertook Operation Bale Out, an investigation of a network of individuals involved in the trafficking of wildlife between the United States and Mexico. “Bale” means a group of turtles, and much of the wildlife trafficked by this network involved rare turtles.
According to information in the public record, Carrillo functioned as a middle-man for the network, transporting live animals – many of which were protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – from Mexico into the United States. Carrillo pleaded guilty to two counts of an indictment charging him with conspiring to traffic wildlife into the United States, and smuggling wildlife into the United States. As part of the plea, Carrillo admitted to being paid more than $92,000 to transport thousands of animals from Mexico into the United States, valued at more than $3,500,000. After transporting the animals into the United States, Carrillo then arranged for them to be delivered to domestic customers, who had purchased the animals from the Mexico-based suppliers.
This case is part of an ongoing effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, in coordination with the Department of Justice, to prosecute those involved in the illegal taking and trafficking in protected species. This prosecution is being handled by the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. The government is represented by Environmental Crimes Trial Attorneys Mary Dee Carraway and Gary N. Donner.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.