SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A brother and sister from Utah were indicted this week by federal prosecutors on charges of illegally importing a rare boa constrictor from Brazil.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah accuses Jeremy Stone, 39, and his sister, Keri Stone, 34, of bringing the snake into the country in a shipment that went through Miami.
Authorities say the Stones paid thousands of dollars to administrators at a Brazilian zoo to get the white leucistic boa, and falsely reported the snake had been caught in the wild in Guyana.
Jeremy Stone bred the boa constrictor with other snakes at his reptile business in Lindon, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, prosecutors say. He then sold the offspring for tens of thousands of dollars.
Los Angeles attorney Larry Bakman, who is represents Jeremey Stone, said his client denies the allegation. Bakman said he looks forward to contesting the charges in court, though he declined to provide specifics.
"Until I see what they have, it's hard for me to comment on the allegations," said Bakman, who has handled several other federal wildlife smuggling cases.
It wasn't immediately clear if Keri Stone had an attorney.
Leucism is a condition in birds, snakes and other animals in which pigmentation cells fail to develop properly. It can cause white patches on skin, hair or feathers, or make creatures completely white.
The indictment says Jeremy Stone learned in 2006 that the rare snake had been caught in the wild and given to the Niteroi Zoo near Rio de Janeiro. Prosecutors say he gave zoo administrators money from 2007 to 2009, and exchanged emails with them about how to get the snake out of the country without having to get the proper permits.
Stone sold the snakes he bred using the Brazilian boa out of his Utah business, Jeremy Stone Reptiles, to buyers in the United States, Canada and Italy, the indictment says.
Jeremy and Keri Stone are set to make their initial court appearances Feb. 11 in federal court in Salt Lake City.
In October, federal prosecutors in Brazil leveled charges of fraud, trafficking of a wild animal, and theft against two Brazilians who worked at the Niteroi Zoo, along with Stone and his sister, according to court documents available on the prosecutor's website.
It was unclear if Brazilian authorities had requested extradition of the Americans. After-hours calls to the federal prosecutor's office in Brasilia rang unanswered. Officials told Brazil's local press last year that they had asked that the snake and all its offspring be returned to the South American nation.
Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.