The months-long investigation initially began back in March when authorities first intercepted the package, which also included three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles. The alleged intended recipient, 34-year-old Rodrigo Franco, who was arrested Tuesday, had tried to ship out six other protected turtles to Hong Kong on the same day.
Alas, the sock-wrapped turtles, which included desert box turtles, three-toed box turtles and ornate box turtles, were intercepted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the affidavit reveals.
So how did officials zero in on Franco?
A (non-venomous) sting, of course! While the US Postal Service-shipped snakes wound up being seized by Customs and Border Protection, special agents from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service let the soft-shelled turtles be delivered to Franco’s Monterey Park, California, home.
After accepting the package, agents then executed their warrant, and were shocked by their findings. Inside the California estate, authorities found a baby Morelet’s crocodile, tanks containing alligator snapping turtles and five diamondback terrapins – all of which are protected endangered species.
WhatsApp messages obtained by authorities between Franco and his connection, identified as Anji, revealed the two discussing the shipment of turtles and snakes to and from Hong Kong.
If convicted, Franco, aka "Carlos Sandoval," could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, despite guidelines typically calling for lesser prison terms, Raw Story reported. He is currently scheduled to be arraigned in August.
Two of the seized king cobras are being cared for at the San Diego Zoo. The third died for unknown reasons, according to the Los Angeles Times.