December 6, 2010

German Man Arrested For Tarantula Smuggling

Officials said Friday that U.S. authorities have arrested a German man for smuggling hundreds of tarantulas and other spiders into the country.

Prosecutors said that Sven Koppler, 37, was arrested Thursday after arriving in Los Angeles to meet an associate, following a nine-month investigation dubbed "Operation Spiderman."

The investigation started in March when customs officers found 300 live tarantulas during a routine search of a package.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents then intercepted a second package containing nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws, as well as 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas.

Agents ordered more tarantulas from Koppler in an attempt to catch the organizers red-handed. 

Koppler allegedly earned about $300,000 from tarantula sales to spider hobbyists in dozens of countries, including nine in the U.S.

According to an affidavit, a number of the packages included spiders whose impact was in breach of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

According to prosecutors, Koppler is facing potentially 20 years in jail and a fine of $250,000 ahead of his expected initial appearance in court Friday.

"Sending light and small packages containing tarantulas is the best way to avoid customs detection around the world," Koppler allegedly claimed in email exchanges with an undercover US agent.

The German man said that he could in theory smuggle tarantulas in his luggage when flying to Los Angeles, and would not be caught nine times out of 10.  However, he said he preferred not to take the risk.

"I am a foreigner and they will probably put me in prison. You have special laws. You have other laws that we don't have" in Germany, he said, according to the affidavit.


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