His buddy was in line with the flea-scratching pygmy monkeys stuffed in his underwear.
But Chris Edward Mulloy was the one with the sudden itch to flee as he watched his friend being searched by customs upon their arrival in Los Angeles from Indonesia in 2002.
When one of four smuggled birds of paradise fluttered out of his friend's bag and began swooping over the heads of startled incoming passengers at Los Angeles International Airport, Mulloy took advantage of the confusion to duck out of line and flee the Tom Bradley International Terminal, authorities contend.
Hidden in his own backpack, authorities say, were two protected Asian leopard newborns that authorities now allege Mulloy was trying to sneak into this country illegally.
On Monday, federal officials arrested Mulloy, 45, in Palm Springs. Hours later, a federal judge ordered his arraignment next week on four counts of smuggling, fraudulently concealing a protected species and lying to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs officials.
Authorities did not explain why the arrest and court appearance came more than four years after the LAX incident -- and three years after his monkey-smuggling friend pleaded guilty and completed a six-month prison term.
"This is a good example of justice delayed but not denied," said assistant federal prosecutor Joseph O. Johns.
Mulloy's friend, Robert Cusack of Orange County, was arrested after airport customs agents found three more endangered birds of paradise in his luggage, along with containers with 50 protected orchids. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ho Truong later said that Cusack was asked if he had anything else to declare.
"I've got monkeys in my pants," Cusack said.
After confessing, Cusack was sentenced to 57 days in jail -- and served a total of about six months.
Johns said authorities in 2005 received a tip about Mulloy's alleged involvement. A federal grand jury indicted him in February of this year.
Also named in the indictment was Darlah Kaye Mulloy, described Monday by officials as Chris Edward Mulloy's sister. According to Johns, she was called in San Diego by her brother to pick up the newborn leopards at an airport-area hotel.
Chris Edward Mulloy, wearing a white sweatshirt and silver handcuffs, indicated to U.S. District Judge Paul Abrams that he had no money for an attorney. He was represented at the pre-arraignment hearing by a federal public defender and released on $50,000 bond after agreeing to surrender his passport.
The two leopards allegedly smuggled by Mulloy were said Monday to be in south Orange County and in Texas. The two pygmy monkeys were sent to the Los Angeles Zoo.
All four birds of paradise eventually died.
Johns said Mulloy and Cusack may have been intending to set up an animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. He said Mulloy could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $1 million if convicted on all charges.