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A top fashion designer has been arrested in her home country of Colombia and faces extradition from the United States after allegedly smuggling crocodile handbags into the United States, Colombian prosecutors say .
Nancy Gonzalez was arrested in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, and faces charges in the US Southern District of Florida that could result in up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Handbags can sell for up to $10,000 in designer boutiques in the United States and Europe.
Gonzalez has made props that have been used by characters from the “Sex and the City” television series, as well as other celebrities.
It is legal to sell some crocodile skins, although the required certificate can be expensive and difficult to obtain.
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According to American and Colombian investigators, Gonzalez smuggled hundreds of handbags by paying airline passengers to carry them in their personal luggage on flights to the United States. She told them to say the bags were gifts for their loved ones if they were questioned by customs officers.
US 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. Round-trip airfare was all funded by Gonzalez.
Gonzalez started out making belts before moving into selling handbags in 1998, when she was asked to build a collection by a designer store manager. His work debuted in the United States at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman.
She also saw her work featured in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008.
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Britney Spears, Victoria Beckham and Salma Hayek are among the celebrities who reportedly purchased Gonzalez’s handbags. It remains unclear if these celebrities’ handbags were included in those allegedly smuggled into the United States.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.