A California man was arrested on federal smuggling charges Tuesday after he accepted packages with three live king cobras coiled tightly in potato chip cans, according to U.S. prosecutors.
Rodrigo Franco, 34, was taken into custody after United States Customs and Border Protection intercepted a package from Hong Kong that was scheduled to arrive at his California home.
In addition to the snakes, Customs and Border Protection officers found three Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the package. The cobras were removed for safety reasons, but the turtles were delivered to Franco's home in Monterey Park.
Federal agents later served a search warrant at Franco's home and found an array of protected species including a live baby Morelet's crocodile, alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle, and five diamond back terrapins.
During an interview with authorities, Franco admitted to an agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that he's previously received 20 king cobras in two other shipments. Franco, however, told investigators that all those snakes died in transit.
Federal agents also searched Franco's phone and found that he'd been messaging a contact known as Ji Anji about shipping turtles and snakes between Hong Kong and the U.S. According to court documents, Franco said he had previously received live cobras and planned to give five to the contact's relative in Virginia.
If convicted, Franco could face up to 20 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.