US Sentences Colombian Designer for Smuggling Bags made of Skin of Protected Species

Published: 24 April 2024

Nancy Gonzalez handbagsThe designer's bags were produced with caiman and python skins in Colombia and smuggled into the United States by couriers. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

A Miami court sentenced a Colombian designer to 18 months behind bars after she pleaded guilty to smuggling handbags made from the skin of protected alligators and pythons from her homeland.

Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi, the founder of the New York-based luxury design company Gzuniga Ltd, and her business partner Mauricio Giraldo persuaded friends, family members, and employees of a handbag manufacturing company in Colombia to "act as couriers" and smuggle products made from protected wildlife skin on themselves or in their luggage as they traveled to the United States, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Upon arrival in the U.S., the bags were delivered to the Gzuniga showroom and then sold in upscale stores.

Gzuniga, Ltd., the designer, and her associate pleaded guilty to conspiracy and smuggling charges on November 17, 2023. Another co-conspirator, John Aguilar, pleaded guilty on April 8 and is set to be sentenced in June. The defendants, including those now convicted, were extradited from Colombia.

Apart from spending 18 months in prison, Gonzalez will be supervised for another three years. Giraldo was sentenced to time served. Authorities confiscated the handbags from the company and banned it from any wildlife activity for three years.

However, Nancy Gonzalez luxury bags made of crocodile and python skin were still available on eBay for over US$4,000 on Wednesday.

“The Gonzalez case underscores the importance of robust collaboration with federal and international partners to disrupt illegal wildlife trade networks,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement.

“The Service will continue to seek justice for protected species exploited for profit, and we will hold accountable those who seek to circumvent international controls meant to regulate their sustainable trade.”