A German man has been charged with smuggling hundreds of tarantulas into the United States through the mail, netting more than $300,000, authorities said Friday.
Sven Koppler, 37, was charged with illegally importing wildlife into the country, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
"He is one of the largest importers of illegal tarantulas into the United States," Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Williams said. "He has been doing it for several years."
Koppler received hundreds of thousands of dollars from sales of tarantulas in dozens of countries, including transactions with about nine people in the United States, Williams said. Authorities were investigating others who may have been part of the scheme, he said.
A search of international packages in March revealed about 300 live tarantulas in a shipment to Los Angeles.
"They were really surprised to find hundreds of tarantulas in a routine search of the mail," Williams said.
Koppler allegedly placed the spiders inside small plastic tubes. Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intercepted a second package that contained nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws.
The second package contained 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas (Brachypelma smithii), a species that is protected under an international treaty. Federal prosecutors say agents posing as buyers ordered additional tarantulas from Koppler, who sent them from Germany to the agents in the United States.
The agents received a package in April that included about 70 live tarantulas and one dead spider, and four packages last month that included several dozen live and dead tarantulas. The undercover buys involved Brachypelma, which are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.