Celebrity designer Nancy Gonzalez was sentenced to prison for smuggling Python handbags

A luxury handbag designer was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after being found guilty of importing goods made using illegally protected wildlife hides.

The 71-year-old founder of Gzuniga, Nancy Gonzalez, was arrested in Cali, Colombia in 2022 and later extradited to the United States. Gonzalez and others were charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling for “illegally importing designer handbags.” “Made from caiman and python skin from February 2016 to April 2019,” the Justice Department said in a statement. press release.

Ministry of Justice He said previously The average retail price of the bags was more than $2,000. Gonzalez and others allegedly asked friends, relatives and employees of her manufacturing company in her native Colombia to smuggle the bags into the United States by carrying them “on their own or in their luggage.” Baggage while traveling on passenger airlines.

Once the products arrive in the United States, they will then be sent to Gzuniga's showroom in New York City and sold to premium retailers for resale in their own stores, according to the Justice Department.

Gonzalez's handbags have been purchased by the likes of Salma Hayek, Britney Spears, and Victoria Beckham, according to News agencyalthough it is unclear whether they purchased any of the illegal products.

The caiman and snake skins all came from captive-bred animals, but Gonzalez failed to obtain the necessary import permits for some of them from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the news agency said. These permits are required under an international treaty that mitigates the trade of certain threatened or endangered wildlife species.

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The designer's lawyers argued before the sentencing that Gonzalez had already paid the price for her crimes, with the Colombian company she created declaring bankruptcy and ending operations following her arrest. They said that the company previously employed 300 employees, most of whom were women.

The lawyers also argued that only 1% of the products it brought into the United States were not properly licensed and were samples for events including New York Fashion Week.

“From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to the United States of America. “I never meant to offend a country to which I owe a great debt of gratitude,” Gonzalez told the court, according to the Associated Press. “Under pressure, I made bad decisions.” She added that she regretted not abiding by American laws, and said She just wants to hug her 103-year-old mother again.

Prosecutors, who were seeking a harsher sentence of 30 to 37 months, said Gonzalez lived a lavish lifestyle unlike the people she recruited into the illegal smuggling scheme. They estimated that illicit goods were sold for up to $2 million in the United States. Gonzalez's attorneys disputed that number and claimed each leather item only cost about $140.

Gonzalez, who was released on bond at her daughter's home in Miami, will have to surrender on June 6 to begin her sentence.

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