A top fashion designer was arrested in her home country of Colombia and faces U.S. extradition after she allegedly smuggled crocodile handbags into the United States, according to Colombian prosecutors.
Nancy Gonzalez was arrested in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, and faces charges in the U.S. Southern District of Florida that could result in up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The handbags can sell for up to $10,000 in designer stores in the United States and Europe.
Gonzalez made accessories that have been used by characters in the “Sex and the City” TV series, as well as other celebrities.
It is legal to sell some crocodile skins, although the required certificate can be costly and difficult to obtain.
According to U.S. and Colombian investigators, Gonzalez smuggled hundreds of handbags by paying airplane passengers to carry them in their personal luggage on flights to the United States. She told them to say that the bags were gifts for their relatives if they were questioned by customs agents.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators said in 2019 that as many as 12 people, each carrying four handbags, boarded a single flight to the United States. The roundtrip plane tickets were all funded by Gonzalez.
Gonzalez started out by making belts before moving to handbag sales in 1998, when she was urged to build up a collection by a designer store executive. Her work debuted in the United States at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman.
She has also seen her work featured in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008.
Britney Spears, Victoria Beckham and Salma Hayek are among the celebrities to have reportedly purchased Gonzalez’s handbags. It remains unclear whether these celebrities’ handbags were included in those allegedly smuggled into the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.