LOS ANGELES – A Lomita man was sentenced today to 15 months in federal prison for smuggling 15 lizards from Australia into the United States, all of which were concealed in money belts on the man’s body when he attempted to pass through United States Customs at the Los Angeles International Airport in November 2009.
Michael Plank, 42, was sentenced this afternoon by United States District Judge Otis D. Wright. In addition to the prison term, Judge Wright ordered Plank to pay a $2,000 fine with interest to be paid within 30 days.
Last year, Plank pleaded guilty to smuggling two Geckos, two Monitor lizards, and 11 Skink lizards from Australia in November 2009. Monitor lizards are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that the species may become threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled.
In commenting on today’s sentence, United States Attorney Andrè Birotte Jr. said, “This sentence of 15 months in federal prison sends a strong message to both wildlife smugglers and would-be wildlife smugglers that the illegal trafficking in wildlife is a serious crime that will result in significant prison time for those who engage in this despicable activity.”
Federal law prohibits the importation of wildlife from another country without a permit. Federal law also requires that all wildlife, including lizards, be declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of first arrival in the United States. Australia prohibits the exporting of its native wildlife for pet trade.
This case is the product of a joint investigation by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and United States Customs and Border Protection.