Designer jailed for smuggling crocodile handbags into US

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Designer jailed for smuggling crocodile handbags into US

A famous handbag designer whose products have been used by Britney Spears and on Sex And The City has been jailed for smuggling crocodile handbags into the United States for fashion shows.

Nancy Gonzalez, 71, admitted to recruiting couriers to transport up to four products each on commercial flights from her native Colombia to the United States for new York Fashion Week, among other high-profile events.

Gonzalez, arrested in 2022 in Cali, then extradited to the United States, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal court in Miami Monday for violating U.S. wildlife laws.

The handbags, made from the skins of captive-bred caimans and pythons, were worth up to $2 million (£1.6 million), prosecutors said, but the designer’s lawyers said each skin only cost around $140 (£113).

At times, it failed to obtain appropriate import permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is backed by a widely ratified international treaty governing trade in endangered and threatened species, the court heard .

Choking back tears, Gonzalez told the court before the sentencing that she deeply regretted not fully complying with U.S. laws.

She said: “From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to the United States of America. It was never my intention to offend a country to which I owe immense gratitude. Under pressure, I made bad decisions.

Salma Hayek, Britney Spears And Victoria Beckham are among the celebrities who have purchased Gonzalez’s carefully crafted handbags.

His work was also included in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In court, his lawyers played a 2019 video of top buyers from Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and others praising the designer’s creativity, productivity and humanity.

But prosecutor Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald said retailers “must regret having been subjected to this and if they found out this had been presented to the court they would cringe”.

“They have their own brand to protect,” he added.

Mr Watts-Fitzgerald, who compared Gonzalez’s behavior to that of drug dealers, said his activities were “all motivated by money”.

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Her lawyers argued for leniency for the woman who, they say, created “the first-ever luxury, high-end fashion company in a third world country,” which later competed with retail giants. industry like Dior, Prada and Gucci.

They also argued that only 1% of the goods it imported into the United States lacked the required paperwork and were samples intended for New York Fashion Week and other events.

Prosecutors asked for a harsher sentence, of 30 to 37 months. But the judge said he was taking into account the nearly 14 months she spent in a Colombian prison awaiting extradition.

She was ordered to begin her sentence on June 6.

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