WASHINGTON – A leading fashion designer whose accessories were used by celebrities and characters in the “Sex and the City” TV series has been arrested in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, and is facing extradition to the United States on charges of smuggling of 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.
Although the sale of some crocodile skins is legal, it requires a certificate, which can be expensive and difficult to obtain.
Investigators in the United States and Colombia say 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 the items were gifts to their family members if they had any questions asked by customs agents.
The handbags can be sold for up to $ 10,000 in designer stores in the US 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 with four handbags each boarded a single flight to the United States with round-trip tickets which was paid for by Gonzalez. The investigators demanded that their identities remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize their investigation.
Gonzalez began making belts and switched to handbags in the late 1990s after a trip to New York, when she was encouraged by a designer store manager to build a collection. Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham apparently bought her carefully made handbags, although it is not clear if any of these were one of the bags that were allegedly brought in illegally. Her work has also been 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 dedication” to improving her products every time she saw a photo or video of a celebrity using one of her handbags.
An email sent to Gonzalez’s website for comment was not immediately returned.
Joshua Goodman reports from Cleveland.