A prominent fashion designer who reportedly sold handbags to celebrities like Salma Hayek, Britney Spears, and Victoria Beckham was recently arrested for smuggling products made from crocodiles into the U.S.
Nancy González, the owner of Gzuniga LTD., was arrested in Colombia on July 8 and is facing extradition to the United States on conspiracy and smuggling charges. The charges could lead to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for smuggling crocodile handbags, according to the U.S. indictment.
González was arrested along with two employees, Diego Mauricio Rodríguez Giraldo and Jhon Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, in her home city of Cali in coordination between Colombian authorities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
From 2016 to 2019, the group allegedly paid a network of people to fly to the U.S. and carry the bags in their personal luggage. The mules were told to tell customs agents, if they asked, that the bags were gifts for relatives.
Although the sale of some types of crocodile skins is legal after a difficult and expensive application process under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it appears that González didn’t have the correct paperwork to import and sell the bags.
The handbags can reportedly be sold for thousands of dollars at designer stores in the U.S. and Europe. According to González’s website, she began selling products in the U.S. in 1998 and now her collections are “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.” Her bags have also reportedly appeared in the Sex and the City franchise, and were part of an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.
Authorities allege that beginning around February 2016, González and her two associates were involved in a conspiracy to “clandestinely import into the United States from Colombia products produced from protected species of wildlife, in violation of federal law, thereby enriching themselves upon the sale of the contraband products in the United States.”
The indictment lists 24 separate trips during that time period where couriers brought dozens of bags to the U.S. The majority of the plane tickets appear to have been paid for by Gzuniga LTD, or Rodríguez Giraldo and Aguilar Jaramillo.
While González and her handbags were often staples of New York Fashion Week, it’s unlikely she’ll be attending this year’s event in September. Instead, her next trip to the U.S. will be in front of a judge in Florida as Colombian authorities have announced that they intend to extradite the fashion mogul.