A Texas man was sentenced to more than a year and a half in prison and $2,000 in fines for his part in a conspiracy to smuggle endangered species. Alejandro Carrillo, 62, from El Paso, faced multiple charges including conspiracy to traffic wildlife and smuggling.
In accordance with the plea deal, Carrillo will spend two years on parole after 20 months in prison in addition to the fine. Carrillo was accused of being the middleman between wildlife suppliers operating out of Juarez, Mexico and various customers in the U.S.
An American citizen, Carrillo acquired a Secure Electronic Network for a Travelers Rapid Inspection card in order to more easily cross the U.S.-Mexico border. After returning to the U.S. he would ship the wildlife to buyers using parcel services.
Investigators say that in many cases, the animals died in transport. The wildlife included various reptiles including the critically endangered and CITES-protected hickatee, or Central American river turtle, also known as the white turtle or tortuga blanca.
“Trafficking in protected species in violation of U.S. and international law is harmful to the animals and their native habitats,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department remains determined to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that these endangered animals are protected.”
“Wildlife trafficking is decimating much of the world’s natural resources,” said Edward Grace, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director. “It is paramount to deter and dismantle wildlife traffickers in order to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources, protect against zoonotic diseases from spreading and so that future generations will be able to benefit from the world’s diverse species of wildlife and plants.”
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Investigators claim Carrillo was smuggling animals from, at least, 2015 through late 2019. He was paid “crossing fees” based on the size of the animals and their difficulty to smuggle, earning him as much as $198,000.
CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a multinational treaty to prevent the exploitation of endangered animals and plants.
The Department of Justice estimated the animals had a street value well over $3 million, possibly $3.5 million. Carrillo did not have any import permits including CITES permits to transport animals, nor did his suppliers.
“The Hicatee turtle is the only living species in an ancient family dating back 65 million years,” said the Turtle Survival Alliance. “It is so resilient that it outlived the dinosaurs. Once widespread, the Hicatee is now critically endangered due to overhunting and in desperate need of greater protection and innovative conservation actions.”