A man accused of attempting to smuggle 159-pounds of iguana meat into the United States from Mexico has been sentenced to two years in prison.
On June 7, 2011, Las Vegas resident Eliodoro Soria Fonseca, 38, entered the U.S. from Mexico at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry with a strange, undeclared haul.
According to authorities, Fonseca entered with several coolers filled with iguana meat, which he intentionally concealed underneath fish.
When Officers with Customs and Border Protection at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry searched Fonseca’s coolers, they found the beheaded bodies of 115 iguanas that had also been skinned and deboned.
The iguana meat weighed 159-pounds.
As part of his guilty plea, Fonseca admitted he intentionally hid the meat, which he knew he should have declared to U.S. authorities upon entry.
Assistant United States Attorney Melanie Pierson represented the U.S. at Fonseca’s sentencing hearing on Thursday and said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laboratory determined the meat to be of the species commonly known as the Green Iguana.
That species is covered by the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES). The species is not yet endangered, but may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled.
According to Pierson, Fonseca did not have any proper documentation for the importation of the iguana meat, including an import license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or a CITES permit.
Additionally, sentencing documents filed in court stated that a researcher for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Iguanas of the Priority Species Protection Council in Mexico concluded that removing more than 100 iguanas from the Nyarit area – where Fonseca obtained the reptiles – essentially “means that the local population was technically wiped out.”
Fonseca admitted in his guilty plea that he imported the meat for the purpose of serving it as food to humans.
The U.S. noted during the hearing that iguana meat frequently carries Salmonella bacteria, which can be transmitted to people who eat contaminated food.
According to the International Journal of Food Microbiology, Salmonella is a serious public health risk. Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and in a small number of cases, suffer from severe illness and even death.
In the end, the Honorable Janis L. Sammartino sentenced Fonseca to 24 months in prison for his illegal smuggling attempt.