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Nashuan pleads guilty to smuggling lizards into U.S.

BOSTON – Derrick Semedo, a 26-year-old Nashua man, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Boston to a charge accusing him of smuggling more than 20 live water monitor lizards into the U.S., reportedly to sell them to people in various states.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said Semedo entered a guilty plea to one count of trafficking in lizards, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock scheduled Semedo’s sentencing for Aug. 13 in the Boston court.

According to court documents, Semedo admitted to illegally importing more than 20 lizards from the Philippines between March and December 2016, in violation of U.S. law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Treaty. To avoid detection by U.S. authorities, the lizards were placed in socks, which were sealed closed with tape, and then concealed in the back panels of audio speakers or other electronic equipment. The equipment was then shipped via commercial carriers to Semedo in Massachusetts. The customs declarations accompanying the shipments identified the content as audio speakers or similar electronics.

As part of his plea, Semedo admitted that he knew the monitor lizards he received had been taken in violation of Philippine law, and that the import violated U.S. law. Semedo also admitted upon receiving the monitor lizards, he sold some of them to customers in New Hampshire, as well as in Connecticut and Colorado.

“Endangered species are called that for a reason,” Lelling said. “Illegally trafficking a protected species in violation of United States and international law is callous and short-sighted. This office will continue to target those who exploit protected animals and ecosystems for personal gain.”

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark cited the harm the animals can suffer when removed from their native habitat.

“To remove members of endangered species from their natural habitat and illegally sell them in the United States is harmful to the animals, their native habitats, and the new ecosystems they create,” Clark said.

“The Department of Justice remains determined to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that these endangered animals are protected, as they should be, in the United States and abroad,” he added.