Colombian Fashion Designer Faces 25 Years In Prison For Smuggling Purses Made From Wild Animals To The US
Colombia’s Attorney General’s office announced the capture of haute couture fashion designer Nancy Teresa González de Barbieri, owner of CI Diseño y Moda International SAS; and two of her accomplices, Diego Mauricio Rodriguez Giraldo and Jhon Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, for making wallets, purses and accessories from Colombian wildlife species, then illegally exporting them to the United States in contravention of the international CITES treaty regulating trade in wildlife products.
Gonzalez’s operation allegedly contracted with local citizens to travel to the United States with the illegal couture and evade customs by indicating that the products they were carrying were gifts for family and friends. Instead, the products were sold in complicit luxury boutiques and elite venues such as New York Fashion Week. In exchange, the “mules” (human couriers of contraband) transporting the contraband received tickets to the United States and $600 for expenses.
Such action violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Wild Flora (CITES). The US Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida filed an extradition request against the trio for:
- Conspiracy to import and bring wildlife into the United States,
- Defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and nullifying government functions, and
- Smuggling merchandise into the United States.
Colombia’s Attorney General’s office states that these captures are a first under the CITES treaty, and the investigation relied on the cooperation of Colombia’s Specialized Directorate Against Human Rights Violation and the US Fish And Wildlife Service.
Colombia has strict laws protecting its wildlife and prohibiting slaughter and commercialization of exotic fauna, while the United States prohibits the import or trafficking of wildlife products except as provide for under CITES. The penalties in this case are potentially 25 years in prison and $500,000 USD in fines.
According to the US Indictment, Gonzalez was well aware of the CITES regulations and had previously complied, but beginning in 2016, she realized that she could use mules to transport her products in luggage as personal items, evading customs and without obtaining CITES certification.
See the indictment here:
The three suspects were arrested earlier in July during National Police operations in Cali, Colombia. Gonzalez allegedly created and marketed products made from Colombian species such as the spectacled caiman and pythons. While not all of the animals were rare or endangered, the root of the crime, according to the US complaint, is smuggling the products into the US avoiding the mandatory CITES procedure and certifications required to import such animal products into the US, and avoiding customs declarations by transporting the merchandise as personal belongings.
According to the designer’s own website, she says “Nature is my best accomplice and my source of inspiration is life…I always try to push the limits of what can be done with precious skins.” The website goes on to state “The collection is sold at over 300 luxury retailers around the world including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrod’s, Tsum, Lane Crawford, Net-a-Porter to name a few. In addition, she has two boutiques in Seoul, Korea and has recently opened a third outpost in the IFC mall in Hong Kong.”
“Nancy Gonzalez is one of the key brands in our accessories department. We’ve had an enormously successful relationship with her for years. She is a true visionary who has revolutionized the precious skins market with her mix of unconventional colors and design,” said Jim Gold, chief executive officer of The Neiman Marcus Group as quoted on the designer’s site.
The three suspects were flown to Bogotá where they await their fate.
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El requerimiento indica que elaboraban carteras, bolsos y diversos productos con pieles de babillas, caimanes, serpientes, entre otras. Contactaban a ciudadanos en Valle del Cauca y, al parecer, los convencían de viajar a Estados Unidos para que llevaran los artículos. pic.twitter.com/pOhK7zFrSB
— Fiscalía Colombia (@FiscaliaCol) July 8, 2022