Colombian designer Nancy Gonzalez has pled guilty to illegally importing handbags made from exotic reptile skins into the US, according to a statement issued by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida Friday.
The designer — who has sold her bags to celebrities like Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham, and even snagged a mention in the film “The Devil Wears Prada” — was charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling handbags made from python and caiman skins between February 2016 and April 2019.
Both species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The designer was extradited to the US from Colombia earlier this year to face the charges against her. Her Colombia-based business Gzuniga Ltd and two other individuals have also been charged.
According to prosecutors, Gonzalez and the other defendants used relatives, friends and employees of the designer’s manufacturing business in Colombia to smuggle hundreds of handbags, purses and totes into the US in luggage or on their person while travelling on passenger airlines. Once in the US, the bags were allegedly delivered to the Gzuniga showroom in New York and sold on to high-end retailers.
Gonzalez decided to plead guilty rather than negotiate with prosecutors “who have treated her most unfairly,” her defense attorney Sam Rabin said in an email.
While the designer has already been incarcerated in Colombia for more than a year, he characterised the misdeed as an administrative one: failing to obtain the proper paperwork for samples in order to meet buyers’ deadlines. Less than one percent of the bags Gonzalez imported into the US lacked proper documentation and all were made using skin from farm-raised reptiles, not protected species as prosecutors allege, Rabin said.
The 70-year-old designer is facing up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and 20 years on each of the smuggling charges, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
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