Accused tarantula smuggler caught in federal web
A German man who authorities said netted more than $300,000 by smuggling hundreds of tarantulas into the United States through the mail was expected to appear in court Friday in Los Angeles to face federal charges.
Officials said the web of "Operation Spiderman" caught Sven Koppler, 37, Thursday, shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles to meet with associates in the alleged scheme that included some endangered species of tarantula.
Koppler is charged with illegally importing wildlife into the United States, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
"He is one of the largest importers of illegal tarantulas into United States. He has been doing it for several years," said Asst. U.S. Atty. Mark Williams.
Williams said Koppler received about $300,000 from sales of tarantulas in dozens of countries, including to about nine people in the U.S. He said authorities were investigating others who may have been part of the scheme.
"They were really surprised to find hundreds of tarantulas in a routine search of the mail," Williams said.
Koppler allegedly placed the spiders inside small plastic tubes. Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intercepted a second package that contained nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws.
The second package contained 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas (Brachypelma smithii) , a species that is protected under an international treaty. Federal prosecutors say agents posing as buyers then ordered additional tarantulas from Koppler, who sent them from Germany to the agents in the United States.
The agents received a package in April that included about 70 live tarantulas and one dead spider, and four packages last month that included several dozen live and dead tarantulas. The undercover buys involved Brachypelma, protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: A Mexican red leg tarantula. Credit: Glenn Koenig, L.A. Times