A 70-year-old Colombian fashion designer who owned a prestigious boutique in New York City and sold luxury handbags and accessories that retail for more than $2,000 now faces the prospect of potentially dying in a US prison after pleading guilty to charges of smuggling merchandise made out of endangered animals, including Caimans and Pythons.
Nancy Teresa Gonzalez de Barberi, the powerhouse behind the Colombian Nancy Gonzalez fashion brand, once designed a new handbag collection for both New York fashion weeks each year and even managed to create a third resort collection that premiered in June.
But last week, the septuagenarian pleaded guilty in a Florida district court to one count of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling for repeated illegal importation of designer handbags.
The years-long investigation revealed how Gonzalez and several accomplices would repeatedly get friends and family members, as well as other associates, to act as couriers to illegally smuggle them into the United States.
Gonzalez had her designs made out of caiman and python skin in a factory in Colombia with the intention of selling them in the United States, despite the fact that both animals have been protected since the 1970s by the multinational Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
As a signatory of CITES, the United States bans the importation of caiman and python products for commercial reasons unless the importer has a valid license – something that isn’t easy to come by.
Prosecutors allege that rather than obtaining a licence, Gonzalez solicited her accomplices to act as mules, smuggling sometimes more than 20 designer handbags at a time on commercial passenger flights from Colombia to New York and Miami.
Following a years-long investigation, Gonzalez now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment for each of the two smuggling charges and a further five years in prison for the conspiracy charge that took place between February 2016 and April 2019.
In addition, the designer faces $500,000 in potential fines.
U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida alleged that hundreds of purses, handbags, and totes were smuggled into the United States, where they were put on display in Gonzales’ showroom and snapped up by ‘high-end’ retailers to be resold.
The average price of each handbag was more than $2,000.
One suspect was extradited from Colombia for their involvement in the conspiracy, although they are still awaiting trail. A fourth suspect remains at large.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.