Florida man smuggling lizards, pleaded guilty to trafficking in protected.
A Florida man has pleaded guilty to trafficking in protected monitor lizards from the Philippines after a scheme that involved sneaking live reptiles into the U.S. inside of socks and electronics.
Akbar Akram, a 44-year-old man from Holiday, pleaded guilty to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, which can bear a penalty of up to $20,000 and up to five years in prison.
Throughout 2016, Akram illegally imported more than 20 monitor lizards into the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In order to smuggle the live reptiles through U.S. Customs authorities, the lizards were stuffed inside socks which were then sealed with tape and placed inside electronic equipment.
The equipment was first shipped to Akram under a false label. It was then shipped commercially to an associate of Akram’s in Massachusetts.
Akram also sold some of the lizards to customers in Colorado and Connecticut, according to the Department of Justice.
Akram admitted to violating U.S. and Philippine law when he imported the lizards.
“The illegal trafficking of protected species is a violation of federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida, in a press release. “We will continue to work with our partners, nationally and internationally, to thwart these crimes.”
The reptiles known as monitor lizards are in the genus Varanus, which is comprised of approximately 70 species.
Several are native to the Philippines, including three species of giant fruit-eating monitor lizards that are found nowhere else in the world.
One of the species, V. bitatawa, was only identified in 2010 and is among the largest in the genus — along with the Komodo dragon.
In addition to the illegal wildlife trade, monitor lizards face threats including forest destruction and illegal collection for meat and skin.