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Man smuggles live corals inside Pringles potato chip containers at LAX, authorities say

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Two Southern California men and representatives of two local companies are facing federal charges of illegally trading in live corals that are protected by an international treaty but frequently are used to decorate aquariums.

Jose Torres, 42, of Gardena, is charged with unlawfully attempting to export to Mexico some 20 varieties of live corals protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — known as CITES — according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

One of three indictments issued Sept. 20 alleges that Torres submitted false records to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that omitted the corals and understated the size of the shipment.

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In a second indictment, Jorge Vazquez, 39, of Garden Grove, is charged with unlawfully attempting to export live, CITES-protected corals. Officials say he hid the animals in Pringles potato chip cans that were discovered during a baggage inspection at Los Angeles International Airport.

Vazquez later admitted he had packed the corals into the Pringles cans, then placed the cans in his mother’s luggage for her to transport to Mexico, according to federal prosecutors.

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