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Man convicted of smuggling iguanas in his fake leg*

April 11, 2008 |  7:31 pm

*UPDATE: The above headline is incorrect. Jereme James was convicted on one count of concealing and one count of possessing endangered animals. He was acquitted of smuggling. The U.S. Attorney's Office erroneously announced early Friday that James had been convicted "of federal smuggling charges." The office later corrected its statement.

A Long Beach man trying to illegally transport rare iguanas has fallen to the long leg arm of the law.

Jereme James, 34, of Long Beach, was found guilty Thursday on two federal charges related to bringing three rare iguanas into the U.S. from a nature preserve in Fiji in 2002. Prosecutors said he brought the reptiles into the U.S. by hiding them in a special compartment he had constructed in his prosthetic leg.

James was convicted on one count of concealing and one count of possessing the endangered animals, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said in a statement. He was acquitted on one count of smuggling. James is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Manuel Real on July 14, facing a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

During a three-day trial, prosecutors attempted to show that James stole three hatchling Fiji Island banded iguanas (Brachylophus fasciatus) and brought them to the United States in violation of federal and international law. The iguana faces extinction and is protected under an international treaty .

After receiving a tip that James possessed the reptiles, prosecutors said, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service opened an undercover investigation.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, James told an undercover agent that he sold a trio of Fiji Island banded iguanas four years ago for $32,000. After a series of meetings with James, Fish and Wildlife Service agents executed a search warrant at James’ house last July and found the reptiles.

As for iguanas, they'll end up in a breeding program in the U.S., officials said.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

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