Fashion Designer Sentenced to 18 Months for Smuggling Crocodile Handbags, Violating Wildlife Laws – ABC News

MIAMI — Nancy Gonzalez, a renowned fashion designer whose accessories were favored by celebrities such as Britney Spears and the cast of “Sex and the City,” has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to smuggling crocodile handbags from Colombia to the United States, violating wildlife laws.

Gonzalez was arrested in 2022 in Cali, Colombia, and later extradited to the U.S. She was involved in a multiyear conspiracy that included recruiting couriers to transport her handbags on commercial flights to high-end showrooms and New York fashion events.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald compared Gonzalez’s actions to those of drug traffickers, emphasizing the need to deter such conduct by targeting the “kingpin” rather than lower-level individuals.

Gonzalez’s lawyers sought leniency, highlighting her journey from a divorced single mother who started designing belts on a home sewing machine to becoming a fashion icon who competed with luxury brands like Dior, Prada, and Gucci.

Despite her success, Gonzalez’s company declared bankruptcy and ceased operations after her arrest. Her attorneys argued that only 1% of the merchandise she imported into the U.S. lacked proper authorization.

Before her sentencing, Gonzalez expressed regret for not meticulously complying with U.S. laws and wished to hug her 103-year-old mother once more.

Prosecutors argued that Gonzalez acquired great wealth and an opulent lifestyle while recruiting couriers to smuggle her merchandise into the United States.

According to testimony, Gonzalez would recruit up to 40 passengers to carry four designer handbags each on commercial flights ahead of important fashion events. Prosecutors estimated that she smuggled goods worth as much as $2 million in the U.S.

All of the hides used for the handbags were from caiman and pythons bred in captivity. However, Gonzalez sometimes failed to obtain proper import authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Judge Robert Scola handed down an 18-month sentence, taking into account the nearly 14 months Gonzalez spent in a Colombian prison awaiting extradition. She must surrender on June 6 to begin her sentence.

Celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Britney Spears, and Victoria Beckham have purchased Gonzalez’s handbags. Her work was also featured in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Gonzalez’s attorneys presented a video in court showing top buyers from Bergdorf Goodman and Saks praising her creativity and humanity. However, Watts-Fitzgerald suggested that these retailers may now regret their endorsements.

Nancy Gonzalez’s Biography:
– Born and raised in Cali, Colombia
– Started her fashion career as a single mother designing belts at home
– Rose to fame as a luxury handbag designer
– Her accessories were favored by celebrities and featured in prestigious exhibitions
– Arrested and sentenced for smuggling crocodile handbags into the U.S.

Short History:
– Nancy Gonzalez’s company declared bankruptcy after her arrest
– She was involved in a conspiracy to transport handbags on commercial flights
– Sentenced to 18 months in prison for violating U.S. wildlife laws

Bullet Points (Random Section):
– Nancy Gonzalez’s company employed 300 mostly female employees
– The company ceased operations after her arrest
– Lawyers argued that only 1% of imported merchandise lacked proper authorization

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