Three King Cobras smuggled into U.S. in potato chip cannisters

A California man was arrested Tuesday morning when authorities searched potato chip cans and found three king cobras that were being illegally smuggled into the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspected a package from Hong Kong that arrived in California this week. When they searched the package they found potato chip cannisters that held three king cobras. 

king cobras are a protected species and are highly venomous. 

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That's not the only thing they found. There were also three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the same package.

Rodrigo Franco, 34, was arrested by U.S. officials. They said he also tried to send six protected turtles to Hong Kong but that package was intercepted.

Federal agents removed the cobras but delivered the turtles to Franco's home in Monterey Park. During a search of Franco's home, authorities discovered more turtles and a baby crocodile, all of which are protected.

The three king cobra snakes - each about two feet - were found in March when Customs and Border Protection officers inspected a package that was mailed from Hong Kong, prosecutors said.

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Franco admitted to an agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two other shipments, but he said they all died in transit, according to court documents.


Federal agents also searched Franco's phone and found that he exchanged messages with an individual in Asia about shipping turtles and snakes between Hong Kong and the U.S., prosecutors said. Franco said in those messages that he had previously received live cobras and planned to give five of the snakes to a relative of the contact in Virginia, court papers said.

Franco is charged with one count of illegally importing merchandise into the United States. He could get 20 years in prison if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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