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An Animal Smuggler Tried to Disguise Deadly Cobras as Potato Chips

After seizing the killer snakes, the cops found a small zoo's worth of protected reptiles stashed in the guy's apartment.

by Drew Schwartz
Jul 26 2017, 6:23pm

US Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

A California man was arrested Tuesday after authorities seized a shipment containing three king cobras stuffed in potato chip cans en route to his house, the Associated Press reports.

US Customs and Border Protection discovered the three two-foot long killer snakes back in March when they intercepted a package from Hong Kong. According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, each snake was crammed into its own emptied tube of knockoff Pringles chips. Officers also found three live albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the same package, which was sent to 34-year-old Rodrigo Franco.

When they stormed Franco's Monterey Park apartment, they found a small reptilian exhibit's worth of protected herps: a baby crocodile, a few different kinds of snapping turtles, and five diamondback terrapins—all imprisoned in a glass tank sitting in a child's bedroom, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Each of the little critters are protected species, and each were allegedly roped into Franco's weird reptilian-trafficking ring, according to the DOJ. Investigators claim Franco worked with a hookup in Hong Kong for months to smuggle snakes between China to the US, using Whatsapp to orchestrate their illicit exchanges. Franco has since admitted that he'd already received 20 king cobras before the cops busted him, though each of the venomous beauties died in transit. He's apparently got a thing for storing reptiles in odd, uncomfortable places and allegedly stuffed six turtles into socks and shipped them to Hong Kong on the same day Customs seized his snakes.

While some people have been known to keep a private collection of dangerous reptiles in the confines of their own backyards, Franco was likely trying to make a quick buck off the reptiles. Though snake-smuggling might seem like a pretty dangerous line of work, the live reptile trade brings in roughly $2 billion a year, according to the Humane Society. And although chip cans might be an odd trafficking vehicle, other smugglers have been known to use children's books and cigarette packs to get the job done.

Apparently, the justice system doesn't take too kindly to folks in the illegal-reptilian-creatures trade: If convicted, Franco faces up to 20 years in prison. As for the animals, Franco's have reportedly been welcomed into the San Diego Zoo.

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