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A celebrity handbag maker is going to prison for importing bags made of protected python and caiman skin

Mia Jankowicz   

A celebrity handbag maker is going to prison for importing bags made of protected python and caiman skin
  • A handbag designer was sentenced to 18 months in prison for importing bags made of rare skins.
  • The bags were made from caiman and python skin, both protected under international trade laws.

A luxury handbag designer was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally importing bags into the US made out of the pelts of protected species.

Nancy Gonzalez, the 71-year-old founder of Gzuniga Ltd, sold the bags for an average price of more than $2,000, according to the Department of Justice.

Victoria Beckham, Britney Spears, and Salma Hayek were reportedly among her clients, as well as cast members of "Sex and the City," the Associated Press reported.

It's unclear if any of them bought handbags made out of endangered animal skins, the outlet noted.

The DOJ found that between 2016 and 2019, Gonzalez enlisted friends, family, and employees as part of a scheme to fly designer purses, handbags, and totes from her factory in Colombia into the US.

Carrying the bags in their luggage or on their person, those traveling would, if questioned, tell authorities the bags were gifts, the AP reported.

The handbags would then be displayed at Gzuniga's Manhattan showroom, ready for high-end retailers to buy for their own stores, according to the DOJ.

The bags were made of caiman — an alligator-like reptile — and python skin, the AP reported.

Both species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and Gonzalez did not have the right import documents, the news agency added.

At the sentencing, Gonzalez told the court she was deeply sorry, per the AP. She added that "under pressure, I made poor decisions."

While Gonzalez's lawyers argued that only a tiny proportion of her stock was sourced without proper authorization, prosecutors said that she enriched herself while "producing felons" out of those she enlisted to carry the bags, the AP reported.

Prosecutors estimated that Gonzalez amassed more than $2 million through this scheme, AP reported.

This sum reflects the massive growth in the luxury handbag market, with buyers increasingly seeking high-end bags not only for fashion status but also as an investment.

In 2022, handbags — mainly from Chanel, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton — performed better than wine, rare whisky, and jewelry as a luxury asset class, the Financial Times reported.

The market has become so heated that two Californian customers are suing Hermès over its restrictive sales practices around the fabled Birkin bag.

Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty to smuggling and conspiracy, was sentenced on Monday along with an associate, Mauricio Giraldo.

A further associate, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, has pleaded guilty and is set to be sentenced on June 27, per the DOJ.


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