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Customs agents foil suspected reptile smuggler at LAX

November 20, 2009 |  7:02 pm

In an apparently cold-blooded attempt at smuggling, a Lomita man was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport this week with more than a dozen wriggling lizards strapped to his chest.

Michael Plank, 40, was detained by U.S. Customs agents after they discovered 15 live lizards stuffed into his money belt, officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said Friday.

Plank was returning from Australia on Tuesday when agents found two geckos, 11 skinks and two monitor lizards in his possession. Australian reptiles are strictly regulated, and Plank didn’t have a required export permit, officials said.

The lizards are valued at $8,500.

Smuggling wildlife into the U.S. is a felony punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison. Plank has been released on a $10,000 bond and will be arraigned Dec. 21 in a Los Angeles federal court, authorities said.

-- Catherine Saillant