WASHINGTON (AP) — A leading fashion designer whose accessories were used by celebrities and characters in the “Sex and the City” TV series, was arrested in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, and faces extradition to the United States on charges of smuggling crocodile handbags, Colombian prosecutors said Friday.
Nancy Gonzalez faces charges in the U.S. Southern District of Florida that could lead to up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
While the sale of some crocodile skins is legal, it requires a certificate, which can be costly and hard to obtain.
Investigators in the United States and Colombia say that Gonzalez smuggled hundreds of handbags by paying passengers to carry them in their personal luggage on flights to the United States and instructed them to say that the items were gifts for their relatives if they were asked any questions by customs agents.
The handbags can sell for up to $10,000 in designer stores in the U.S and Europe.
In 2019, two investigators working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told The Associated Press that as many as 12 people carrying four handbags each boarded a single flight to the United States with round-trip tickets paid for by Gonzalez. The investigators asked for their identities to remain anonymous in order to not jeopardize their probe.
Gonzalez started out by making belts and transitioned to handbags in the late 1990s following a trip to New York, when she was encouraged by a designer store executive to build up a collection. Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham reportedly bought her carefully crafted handbags, though it’s not clear if any of those were among the bags allegedly brought in illegally. Her work also was included in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In a 2019 interview Gonzalez told the Miami Herald that she felt “an enormous responsibility and commitment” to improve her products, every time she saw a picture or a video of a celebrity using one of her handbags.
An email sent to Gonzalez’s website seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Joshua Goodman reported from Cleveland, Ohio.
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