LOS ANGELES - A German national targeted in a multi-agency investigation known as "Operation Spiderman" has been arrested on federal smuggling charges after he allegedly used the U.S. mail to illegally import hundreds of tarantulas, some of which are protected under international law.
Sven Koppler, 37, a German citizen who is believed to reside in Wachtberg, Germany, was arrested without incident late Thursday by special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Postal Inspectors. Koppler was taken into custody soon after arriving in Los Angeles to meet with an associate. He is charged in a criminal complaint with one count of illegally importing wildlife into the United States, an offense that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Operation Spiderman was spearheaded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with substantial assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation into Koppler began in March, when a routine search of an international package revealed approximately 300 live tarantulas that were being shipped to Los Angeles. As part of the investigation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents obtained information about an additional shipment of live tarantulas from Germany via the United States Postal Service. Agents intercepted a second package that contained nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in colored plastic straws. The second package contained 22 Mexican red-kneed (Brachypelma smithi) tarantulas, a species that is protected under an international treaty.
During a subsequent undercover investigation detailed in the criminal complaint, agents ordered additional tarantulas from Koppler who then sent the spiders from Germany to the agents in the United States. The agents received a package in April that included about 70 live (and one dead) tarantulas, and four other packages last month that included several dozen live and dead tarantulas. The undercover buys involved protected Brachypelma tarantulas.
The entire Brachypelma genus is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) because it is being threatened by international trade, and specimens can only be legally traded if CITES permits are first obtained from the exporting country.
The criminal complaint states that federal agents reviewed records that indicate Koppler has received approximately $300,000 as a result of tarantula sales to individuals in dozens of countries throughout the world, including approximately nine people in the United States.
Koppler is expected to make his initial court appearance in U.S. District Court Friday.