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

January 20, 2011 |  7:57 am

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

A German man accused of shipping hundreds of live tarantulas by mail to the United States has pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to a federal animal-smuggling charge, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Sven Koppler, 37, admitted Monday 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-kneed tarantulas, formally known as 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, will be sentenced April 11 and faces a maximum term of 20 years in federal prison.

Agents began investigating last March 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.

Agents began posing as customers, ordering dozens more tarantulas from the smuggler, officials said.


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Photo: Tarantulas confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A German national admitted shipping the tarantulas into the U.S. through the mail and pleaded guilty to a federal animal-smuggling charge, prosecutors said. Credit: Reuters / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service