Man Accused of Smuggling Wildlife Pleads Not Guilty

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By Kamika Dunlap on December 29, 2009 5:50 AM

A California man accused of strapping 15 live lizards to his chest to get through customs at Los Angeles International Airport, pleaded not guilty to federal charges.

According to the Associated Press, Michael Plank entered his plea to a count of smuggling wildlife into the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Michale Plank, 40, was returning from Australia on Nov. 17 when U.S. Customs agents found two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 skinks -- another type of lizard -- stuffed into a money belt he was wearing.

The lizards have an estimated value of more than $8,500, authorities say.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monitor lizards are a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). All reptiles from Australia are strictly regulated for export, and an Australian export permit is required.

The case will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

Federal law requires travelers to declare items brought into the United States from abroad, including wildlife. Concealing the illegal import of wildlife into the United States -- smuggling is a felony.

There are several agencies that oversee the legal importation of exotic animals including:

The CDC  oversees human health and the quarantine of imported monkeys.

The Department of the Agriculture  oversees livestock health and quarantines live birds and wild cud chewing animals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service checks for the smuggling and enforces the laws concerning endangered species and exotic animals.