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Dubiously hidden snakes—inside potato chip cans—were far from a practical joke for U.S. officials.

On March 2, federal agents from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Customs and Border Protection INTERCEPTED a suspicious package heading from Hong Kong to a home outside of Los Angeles. Inside the package, they made the striking discovery of potato chip cans containing three deadly king cobras.

The recipient of the rare reptiles, Rodrigo Franco, 34, was arrested on federal charges in violation of the Endangered Species Act and falsifying records for the alleged smuggling. According to federal prosecutors, Franco faces up to 20 years in prison for such charges!

Agriculture special agents of CBP initially flagged the foreign package due to suspicion from the sender’s address. Agents almost gave the parcel the slip until they noticed something stirring.

Stephanie Johnson, a special agent of Fish & Wildlife Service, was also tipped off from the sender’s address. Last year, Johnson had online exchanges with the illegal exporter from China, which included the selling of exotic (not naturally from here) venomous snakes.

“I directed the Wildlife Inspectors and the CBP Agricultural Specialists to not open the small potato chip canisters until we could take them to a more controlled and safe environment. However, while I was interviewing Agricultural Specialist (Jaime) Pimentel…, Wildlife Inspector (Cory) Kawabata opened one of the canisters and verified there was a snake inside (at the time, the snake was passive and did not attempt to strike at WI Kawabata),” according to Johnson’s portion of the federal affidavit.

As a precaution, federal agents ran the suspicious package through an x-ray machine to further confirm the frightening findings. In total, agents recovered three king cobras, each approximately 2-feet-long, as well as three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles, which were allowed to be delivered to Franco’s home the following day to help capture the suspect.

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
August 2017