If you've been charged with smuggling your weight's worth in
deadly really fucking creepy tarantulas into the U.S., don't make a swanky business trip to Los Angeles and hope to come out alive.
Thirty-seven-year-old Sven Koppler of Wachtberg, Germany, has learned that lesson the hard way. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intercepted his L.A. meeting with an associate this week, he's due in federal court this afternoon. Feel like you've got a good animal-rights heckle brewing? The court is located here.
The first leg of Operation Spiderman, as the feds must think themselves mighty clever for naming it, began in March when a shipment of 300 live tarantulas was discovered in Los Angeles. But the best was yet to come:
The Fish and Wildlife guys then intercepted a second package with 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws, and containing -- to the sheer delight of all arachnophiles in the room -- 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas. Turns out the species is so rare/beautiful that it's protected under international treaty.
At that point, before any more helpless spiders could get trafficked, Fish and Wildlife decided it was time for a sting.
So, pretending to be customers, federal agents put in an order for even more live tarantulas. Just like that, they received a set of 70. (Actually 71, but that last one was dead. We're thinking the live guys sacrificed him, Donner Party style.)
Koppler apparently got desperate last month, because he sent his undercover "clients" four more packages of tarantulas, many of them dead. Some Mexican red-knees were among the victims.
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That's what led to the sloppy L.A. meeting -- quickly intercepted by the Operation Spiderman investigation team.
In the end, a total of nine U.S. clients paid Koppler around $300,000 for his German goods. And that's not even counting the dozens more clients he had in other countries. (Can't there be some kind of Jessica's Law for tarantula collectors? Don't know about you, but we'll be kind of pissed if we find out one is living next door.)
Koppler faces up to 20 years in prison, during which he will finally feel the pain of being confined to a cold, hard cage during his prime years of cricket-hunting.
(BTW, Fish and Wildlife would like to give a special shout-out to their partners in the sting: the United States Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fine work, gentlemen. As for you, ICE: Surprised to find out that non-Mexican immigrants are just as capable of being criminals?)