A top fashion designer featured on Sex and the City is accused of smuggling endangered crocodile skin purses worth up to $10,000 into the US through a chain of couriers who passed them off as gifts
- Nancy Gonzalez was arrested Friday for smuggling wallets made from endangered caiman and python skins into the United States from Colombia
- She paid a courier network to transport banned products between the two countries for four years
- Gonzalez ordered the couriers to tell customs officers that the wallets were gifts
- She and two men face 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000
- Her handbags were used by Britney Spears, Salma Hayek and Victoria Beckham
A Colombian-born fashion designer whose animal skin purses have been used by celebrities and characters on the TV series “Sex and the City” was arrested Friday on charges of smuggling handbags made from endangered species into the country.
Nancy Gonzalez, owner of Gzuniga Ltd, and two other men have been arrested by Colombian authorities in coordination with a US Fish and Wildlife Service investigation for paying a courier network to transport hundreds of purses made from the skins of endangered pythons and caimans between two countries. .
Gonzalez will be extradited to the United States to face charges.
Gonzalez’s backpacks can cost up to $10,000 apiece and are sold at high-end department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
Nancy Gonzalez is seen here in handcuffs after being arrested by authorities in Cali, Colombia, for smuggling bags containing the skins of endangered crocodiles and snakes into the United States
Gonzalez paid dozens of couriers to deliver hundreds of animal skin handbags between Colombia and the United States, where they sold for up to $10,000 each
Gonzalez’s animal skin bags were featured on the hit TV show Sex and the City
She and her alleged accomplices, Diego Rodriguez and John Aguilar, face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Most caiman species are endangered, but some pelts can be sold if the seller is certified under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.
Gonzalez, however, never received such permission, and beginning in February 2016, she and her colleagues allegedly paid runners to carry several crocodile and snakeskin bags on flights to Miami and JFK airports over the next four years.
Nancy Gonzalez with her son Santiago at Bergdorff Goodman, which sells her animal skin handbags for thousands of dollars each
According to a federal indictment filed in Miami federal court, the couriers bring the clutches to Gzuniga’s midtown Manhattan showroom, where they will be sold or displayed during Fashion Week in September or Resort Week in June.
Fashion mules were told to say the bags were gifts for friends and family when questioned by authorities.
In 2019, about 12 people with four bags each boarded a flight to the U.S. with round-trip tickets paid for by Gonzalez, Fish and Wildlife Service investigators told The Associated Press.
Gonzalez is expected to be extradited to the United States, where he faces charges of violating an international agreement on the importation of endangered animal products.
The investigators asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize the investigation.
Gonzalez started out making belts and switched to handbags in the late 1990s after a trip to New York when a designer store manager encouraged her to create a collection.
Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham have all reportedly bought elaborate handbags from her, although it’s unclear if any were among the bags allegedly smuggled in.
Her work was also included in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In a 2019 interview, Gonzalez told the Miami Herald that she feels a “tremendous responsibility and commitment” to improve her products every time she sees a photo or video of a celebrity using one of her handbags.
An email sent to Gonzalez’s website by MailOnline seeking comment was not immediately returned.