Luxury handbag designer sentenced for smuggling, making purses out of protected wildlife

MIAMI — A luxury handbag designer who in November pleaded guilty to smuggling purses made out of protected reptile species was sentenced Monday to serve 18 months in prison.

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Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi, founder of the luxury handbag company Gzuniga, and an associate, Mauricio Giraldo, were sentenced in federal court for their crimes, according to the Department of Justice. Giraldo was sentenced to 22 months in prison, which he has already served while awaiting trial.

A third co-conspirator, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, pleaded guilty on April 8 and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27, a Department of Justice news release stated.

Federal authorities said the trio smuggled skin from caiman and python species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Both the United States and their native Columbia are signatories to the convention.

“The United States signed on to CITES in an effort to help protect threatened and endangered species here and abroad from trafficking,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will not tolerate illegal smuggling. We appreciate the efforts of our many federal and international partners who have helped with the investigation, extradition and prosecution of this case.”

According to authorities, Gonzalez and her Gzuniga label solicited friends, relatives and employees of her manufacturing company in Colombia to act as couriers and transport designer handbags on their person or in their luggage while traveling on passenger airlines.

Once the handbags were in the U.S., they were delivered or shipped to the Gzuniga showroom in Manhattan and put on display for high-end retailers to view and purchase for re-sale in their stores.

The conduct involved hundreds of purses, handbags, and totes. The average retail price for these “Nancy Gonzalez” brand handbags was over $2,000, Justice Department officials said.

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