Top fashion designer featured on Sex and the City is charged with smuggling endangered crocodile skin purses worth up to $10,000 to the US by using a network of couriers who pretended they were gifts
- Nancy Gonzalez was arrested Friday for smuggling purses made of endangered caiman and python skin into the US from Columbia
- She paid a network of couriers to carrier the illicit products between the two countries over four years
- Gonzalez told the couriers to tell customs agents that the purses were gifts
- She and two men face 20 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines
- Her handbags have been used by Britney Spears, Salma Hayek and Victoria Beckham
A Columbian-born fashion designer, whose animal skin purses have been used by celebrities and characters in ‘Sex and the City,’ was busted Friday on charges that she smuggled handbags made of endangered species into the country.
Nancy Gonzalez, owner of Gzuniga Ltd, and two other men were arrested by authorities in Columbia in coordination with an investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for paying a network of couriers to fly hundreds of endangered python and caiman skin purses between the two countries .
Gonzalez will be extradited to the US to face charges.
Gonzalez’s satchels can go for up to $10,000 each and have been sold in high-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
Nancy Gonzalez seen here in handcuffs after being arrested by authorities in Cali, Columbia for smuggling endangered crocodile and snake skin bags into the US
Gonzalez paid dozens of couriers to take hundreds of animal skin handbags between the Columbia and the US where they sold for up to $10,000 each
Gonzalez’s animal skin bags have been featured by in the hit TV show ‘Sex and the City’
She and her alleged co-conspirators, Diego Rodriguez and John Aguilar, face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Most caiman species are endangered, but some skins can be sold as long as the seller has obtained a certificate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES.
Gonzalez, however, never obtained such permission and beginning in February 2016, she and her colleagues are alleged to have paid runners to carry multiple crocodile and snake skin bags in flights into Miami and JFK airports over the next four years.
Nancy Gonzalez, with her son Santiago, at a celebration for Bergdorff Goodman which sells her animal skin handbags for thousands of dollars each
The couriers would bring the clutches to the Gzuniga showroom in Midtown Manhattan where they would be sold or displayed during Fashion Week in September or Resort Week in June, according to a federal indictment filed in Miami federal court.
The fashion mules were told to say that the bags were gifts for friends and family if they were questioned by authorities.
In 2019, as many as 12 people carrying four handbags each boarded a flight to the US with round-trip tickets paid for by Gonzalez, investigators from the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Associated Press.
Gonzalez is expected to be extradited to the US to face charges of violating an international agreement on the importation of endangered animal products
The investigators asked for their identities to remain anonymous in order not to jeopardize their probe.
Gonzalez started out by making belts and transitioned to handbags in the late 1990s following a trip to New York when she was encouraged by a designer store executive to build up a collection.
Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham reportedly bought her carefully crafted handbags, though it’s not clear if any of those were among the bags allegedly brought in illegally.
Her work also was included in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In a 2019 interview Gonzalez told the Miami Herald that she felt ‘an enormous responsibility and commitment’ to improve her products, every time she saw a picture or a video of a celebrity using one of her handbags.
An email sent to Gonzalez’s website by the MailOnline seeking comment was not immediately returned.