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Would-be lizard smuggler gets 15 months in prison

July 6, 2011 |  5:21 pm

Lizard A Lomita man who tried to smuggle 15 lizards into the United States by strapping the squirming reptiles to his chest was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison, officials said.

Michael Plank, 42, was also ordered to pay a $2,000 fine by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright in downtown Los Angeles.

U.S. customs agents detained Plank in November 2009 as he attempted to pass through customs at Los Angeles International Airport after arriving on a flight from Australia. The reptiles -- two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 skinks -- were stuffed into money belts strapped to Plank’s chest.

Plank pleaded guilty last year to smuggling goods into the United States, a felony charge. Australia prohibits the export of native wildlife for the pet trade, and Plank didn’t have the required permits for bringing the lizards into the United States.

U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement that the sentence “sends a strong message to both wildlife smugglers and would-be wildlife smugglers that the illegal trafficking in wildlife is a serious crime that will result in significant prison time.”

Assistant U.S. Atty. Dennis Mitchell said the lizards are at the San Diego Zoo.

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Photo: The contraband lizards. Credit: U.S. attorney’s office

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