Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Las Vegas Man Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Smuggling Iguana Meat In to the U.S

Apr 26, 2012

April 26, 2012
News release courtesy Department of Justice.

Contact: Melanie Pierson, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Southern District of California 619-557-5685

Las Vegas Man Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Smuggling Iguana Meat In to the U.S

SAN DIEGO - United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced today that a Las Vegas resident was sentenced by the Honorable Janis L. Sammartino to serve 24 months in custody for smuggling iguana meat into the United States.  Eliodoro Soria Fonseca, 38, admitted that on June 7, 2011, he entered the United States from Mexico with several coolers stuffed with iguana meat, concealed under fish.  Officers with Customs and Border Protection at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry ultimately searched the coolers, and found the beheaded, skinned, and deboned bodies of 115 iguanas (weighing 159 pounds) concealed inside. Fonseca acknowledged as part of his guilty plea that he intentionally concealed the iguana meat, which he knew he should declare to United States authorities.

According to Assistant United States Attorney Melanie Pierson, who represented the United States at the sentencing hearing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laboratory determined the meat to be of the species Iguana iguana (commonly known as the green iguana), which is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Appendix II.  CITES Appendix II lists species which are not yet endangered, but may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled. The defendant had no import license from by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this importation, nor any CITES permit issued by Mexico’s wildlife management authority.  And according to sentencing documents filed in court, a full time researcher working for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Iguanas of the Priority Species Protection Council in Mexico concluded that removing over 100 iguanas from the Nyarit area (where Soria Fonseca obtained these animals) essentially “means that the local population was technically wiped out.”

According to admissions in his guilty plea, the defendant imported the iguana meat for the purpose of serving it as food to humans.  But as noted by the United States during the sentencing hearing, iguana meat frequently carries Salmonella bacteria, which can be transmitted to people who eat contaminated food.  According to the International Journal of Food Microbiology, Salmonella constitutes a “significant public health risk” due to the documented high intestinal carrier rate in reptiles, and an equally high contamination rate in their fresh and frozen meat.  Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and in a small number of cases suffer from severe illness and even death.

United States Attorney Duffy praised the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their efforts in this prosecution, and their commitment to protect the American public from the health risks posed by the illegal importation of untested wildlife.  United States Attorney Duffy also reiterated her Office’s commitment to protecting threatened wildlife species from smugglers and other criminals.

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