A man was arrested on federal smuggling charges Tuesday after customs officers intercepted a shipment with three live king cobras hidden inside potato chip canisters that were being mailed to his California home, US prosecutors say. Rodrigo Franco, 34, faces a felony count of illegally importing merchandise into the US, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, the Pasadena Star-News reports. The three king cobra snakes—each about two feet long—were found in March when Customs and Border Protection officers inspected a package that was mailed from Hong Kong, prosecutors say. There were also three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the package.
Federal agents removed the cobras but delivered the turtles to Franco's home in Monterey Park. The agents later served a search warrant there and found tanks with a live baby Morelet's crocodile, alligator snapping turtles, a common snapping turtle, and five diamond back terrapins, the AP reports. Prosecutors say all of the reptiles are protected under US law. Franco admitted to an agent from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that he had previously received 20 king cobras in two other shipments, but he said they all died in transit, according to court documents. Federal agents, however, found messages on Franco's phone in which he said he had previously received live cobras. (Read more smuggling stories.)