Colombia’s attorney general’s office announced the capture of a high fashion designer Nancy Teresa González de Barbieri, owner of CI Diseño y Moda International SAS; and two of his accomplices, Diego Mauricio Rodriguez Giraldo and Jhon Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, for making wallets, purses and accessories from Colombian wildlife and then illegally exporting them to the United States in violation of the CITES convention.
Gonzalez’s operation reportedly hired local citizens to travel to the United States with illegal sewing and evade customs by indicating that the products they were carrying were gifts for family and friends. Instead, the products were sold at conniving luxury boutiques and elite venues such as New York Fashion Week. In return, the “mules” (human contraband couriers) carrying the contraband received tickets to the United States and $600 for their expenses.
Such action violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The United States Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida filed an extradition request against the trio for:
- Conspiracy to import and bring wildlife into the United States,
- Defraud the United States by obstructing, obstructing, impeding, and nullifying government functions, and
- Smuggling of goods into the United States.
Colombia’s attorney general’s office says the captures are a first under the CITES treaty and the investigation relied on the cooperation of the Colombian Specialized Directorate Against Human Rights Violations and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Colombia has strict laws protecting its wildlife and prohibiting the killing and marketing of exotic wildlife, while the United States prohibits the import or trafficking of wildlife products except as provided by CITES. The penalties in this case are potentially 25 years in prison and a US$500,000 fine.
According to the US indictment, Gonzalez was well aware of CITES regulations and had previously complied with them, but from 2016 she realized she could use mules to transport her products in luggage as personal items, avoiding customs and without obtaining CITES certification.
See the indictment here:
The three suspects were arrested earlier in July during National Police operations in Cali, Colombia. Gonzalez is said to have created and marketed products made from Colombian species such as the spectacled caiman and pythons. Although not all of the animals were rare or endangered, the root of the crime, according to the US complaint, is the smuggling of the products into the United States by avoiding the mandatory CITES procedure and the certifications required to import these animal products. in the United States, and avoiding customs. declarations by transporting the goods as a personal effect.
According the creator’s own website, she says “Nature is my best partner and my source of inspiration is life…I always try to push the limits of what can be done with precious skins.” The website goes on to state, “The collection is sold at over 300 luxury retailers worldwide, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrod’s, Tsum, Lane Crawford, Net-a-Porter for n’ to name a few. Additionally, it has two boutiques in Seoul, Korea, and recently opened a third outpost in the IFC mall in Hong Kong.
“Nancy Gonzalez is one of the leading brands in our accessories department. We had an extremely successful relationship with her for years. She is a true visionary who has revolutionized the market for precious skins with her blend of unconventional colors and designs,” said Jim Gold, CEO of The Neiman Marcus Group, quoted on the designer’s website.
The three suspects were flown to Bogotá where they await their fate.
El requerimiento indica que elaboraban carteras, bolsos y diversos products con pieles de babillas, caimanes, serpientes, entre otras. Contactaban a ciudadanos en Valle del Cauca y, al parecer, los convencían de viajar a Estados Unidos para que llevaran los artículos. pic.twitter.com/pOhK7zFrSB
— Fiscalía Colombia (@FiscaliaCol) July 8, 2022