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German sentenced to six months in prison for smuggling tarantulas into U.S.

May 16, 2011 | 12:31 pm

Tarantulas confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A German man convicted of shipping hundreds of live tarantulas by mail to the United States has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to a federal animal-smuggling charge, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said.

Sven Koppler, 37, described by a federal prosecutor as one of the "largest illegal importers of taratulas," also agreed to pay a $4,000 fine.

Koppler had previously admitted that he shipped 247 live tarantulas to federal agents in L.A. who posed as buyers in a 10-month investigation dubbed "Operation Spiderman."

Koppler also shipped 22 Mexican red-knee tarantulas, or Brachypelma smithi, a species protected under international treaty, officials said. Prosecutors said Koppler made $300,000 by selling spiders to people worldwide.

Koppler, who lives in Wachtberg, Germany, could have received a maximum term of 20 years in federal prison.

Agents began investigating in March 2010 after a routine search of an international package revealed about 300 live tarantulas on their way to L.A., according to a criminal complaint.

A second package intercepted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents contained nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws, including the Mexican red-kneed tarantulas.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Williams told The Times that the man received hundreds of thousands of dollars from sales of tarantulas in dozens of countries, including transactions with about nine people in the United States.

Authorities were investigating others who may have been part of the scheme, he said.

Koppler allegedly placed the spiders inside small plastic tubes. Federal prosecutors say agents posing as buyers 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, which are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

RELATED:

Accused tarantula smuggler caught in federal web

German man pleads guilty to smuggling live tarantulas into L.A.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Tarantulas smuggled into the United States in the mail by Sven Koppler were confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: United States Department of Justice

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