Nuevo Culture

Colombian Designer Gets Prison Time for Handbags Made from Protected Wildlife

Colombian-born handbag designer Nancy González has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, but will only serve about one month because of time already served. Gonzalez, who ran the luxury handbag company known as Gzuniga, pleaded guilty last year to illegally importing merchandise made from protected wildlife from her home country to the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs, Gzuniga was forced to surrender all its handbags and was banned for three years from commercial trade in wildlife. Gonzalez’s associate, Mauricio Giraldo, was sentenced to time served, approximately 22 months. Another co-conspirator, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, is scheduled for sentencing in June.

“The Gonzalez case underscores the importance of robust collaboration with federal and international partners to disrupt illegal wildlife trade networks,” Edward Grace, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, said in a statement. “This investigation uncovered a multi-year scheme that involved paid couriers smuggling undeclared handbags made of … protected reptile skins into the U.S. to be sold for thousands of dollars.”

When Gonzalez was extradited last year to the U.S., she was suspected of paying individuals to transport the illegal handbags, made of caiman and python, on commercial flights. At the time, she faced 25 years in prison. 

Before her arrest, Gonzalez’s brand was carried in stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue and carried by celebrities like Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham.

“From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to the United States of America,” Nancy González said, according to the Associate Press. “I never intended to offend a country to which I owe immense gratitude. Under pressure, I made poor decisions.”