World News

Cobras hidden in potato-chip cans lead to arrest

Cobras hidden in potato-chip cans lead to arrest

Customs officers made a startling discovery earlier this year while inspecting a package on its way to a Monterey Park apartment: three highly venomous king cobra snakes, each about 2 feet long, hidden in potato chip cans.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that Rodrigo Franco, 34, was arrested Tuesday morning and is charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise into the United States. He was charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise to the USA and was expected to make his first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon. That "merchandise" included three king cobras, which the United States Customs and Border Protection had intercepted on March 2.

In photos provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the cobras appeared to be coiled inside of the potato chip canisters, which appeared to be sealed with a plastic lid.

For months, according to federal court records, Franco used WhatsApp, a smartphone messaging platform, to negotiate shipments of snakes and turtles to and from Hong Kong.

In addition to the three snakes, officials said the package being sent through the United States Postal Service contained three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles.

Agents searched Franco's home and found another package in a child's bedroom, along with a baby Morelet crocodile and tanks of various species of protected turtles, according to the complaint.

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Franco also told authorities in a subsequent interview that he'd received 20 king cobras in previous shipments, but all the cobras died while in transit.

According to the news release, authorities obtained evidence from Franco's phone that revealed messages in which Franco and an individual in Asia discussed shipping turtles and snakes between the United States and Asia.

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.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for less time behind bars.

It is unclear if Franco has retained an attorney or entered a plea.


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