German man admits mailing hundreds of tarantulas to U.S

Wed Jan 19, 2011 4:02pm GMT

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - A German national who shipped hundreds of live tarantulas into the United States through the mail has pleaded guilty to a federal smuggling charge, prosecutors said.

In pleading guilty on Tuesday, 37-year-old Sven Koppler admitted mailing some 247 live tarantulas to federal agents in Los Angeles, who were posing as buyers as part of an investigation dubbed "Operation Spiderman."

Koppler further admitted sending the agents 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas, a species of spider formally known as Brachypelma smithi that is protected under an international treaty.

Koppler, who lives in Wachtberg, Germany, faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on April 11, U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

Authorities say the investigation into Koppler began in March, when a routine inspection turned up about 300 live tarantulas in a package he mailed to Los Angeles.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents ordered more spiders from Koppler and were sent a total of five packages containing dozens of live and dead tarantulas.

He was arrested on December 2 after arriving in Los Angeles to meet with an associate.

Koppler received about $300,000 (187,617.26 pounds) as a result of tarantula sales to spider fanciers in dozens of countries, including nine in the United States, according to court documents.   Continued...

<p>Tarantula's confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are shown in this December 3, 2010 handout photo released to Reuters January 18, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout</p>
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