A citizen of Mexico was sentenced on September 3 to three years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a conspiracy to smuggle protected reptiles from Mexico to the United States.
According to court documents, Jorge Alonso Gutierrez pleaded guilty on April 28 to a two-count information charging him with one count of conspiracy to traffic wildlife and one count of smuggling. Gutierrez admitted to being part of a conspiracy to smuggle wildlife from Mexico into the United States via El Paso, Texas. The reptiles included a Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawaii), a species that is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is also listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Gutierrez was the middleman between several Mexico-based suppliers of wildlife and their U.S.-based customers. Gutierrez’s role as middleman was to coordinate and receive wildlife at the Jaurez, Mexico airport and deliver them to a co-conspirator in Juarez who smuggled them in his car into the United States through an El Paso border crossing. Once in the United States, the wildlife was shipped via Fed Ex or U.S. Postal Service to U.S.-based customers. On many occasions, animals died during transport.
Between April 2015 and February 2020, Gutierrez either illegally transported or caused to be illegally transported wildlife across the U.S.-Mexico border with a market value in excess of $3,500,000. Gutierrez was paid by Mexican suppliers to facilitate the smuggling of wildlife into the United States.
On Sept. 22, 2016, Gutierrez received wildlife from the Juarez airport and transported and delivered the wildlife to a co-conspirator who smuggled the wildlife into the United States and an El Paso, Texas, border crossing. The wildlife was ultimately repackaged and sent by Fed-Ex to buyers in the United States. Neither Guiterrez nor the co-conspirator had a CITES import permit for any of the smuggled animals, nor were permits issued in the name of any of the suppliers.
The sentencing was announced by Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The investigation was handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Trial Attorneys Mary Dee Carraway and Gary Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.