Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

California Man Arrested on Charges of Smuggling Lizards From Australia Into the U.S.

Nov 20, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE       
Contacts:  Special Agent Mona Ianelli,
310-328-1516 / cell: 310-678-4904
Scott Flaherty, 916-978-6156

 California Man Arrested on Charges of Smuggling Lizards from Australia into the U.S

A Lomita, California, man was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents Tuesday, November 17 and charged with smuggling after he allegedly attempted to clear U.S. Customs while concealing 15 live lizards strapped to his torsoe.  

Michael Plank, 40, was returning to the United States from Australia when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers discovered the lizards, which had been concealed in a money belt.  Wildlife Inspectors from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the lizard species as two geckos, eleven skinks, and two monitor lizards.  Monitor lizards are a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). All reptiles from Australia are strictly regulated for export, and an Australian export permit is required.  Australian export permits are generally not issued for personal or commercial purposes.  The value of the lizards is estimated to exceed $8,500. 

The case will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California in Los Angeles. 

Federal law requires travelers to declare items brought into the United States from abroad, including wildlife. Concealing the illegal import of wildlife into the United States (smuggling) is a felony.  The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.   The charges and allegations are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Plank has been released on a $10,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles on December 21. 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov