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Luxury Handbag Designer Nancy Gonzalez Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

The Colombian-born designer pleaded guilty last fall for illegal smuggling and conspiracy charges.

Luxury Handbag Designer Nancy Gonzalez Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

Nancy Gonzalez

Luxury handbag designer Nancy Gonzalez was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday for illegally importing merchandise from Colombia to the U.S. that was made with skins from protected wildlife.

Gonzalez had pled guilty in November, as had her company, Gzuniga Ltd., and an associate Mauricio Giraldo. Gonzalez was sentenced to 18 months in prison with credit for time served, a supervised release of three years and is to pay a special assessment. Gzuniga has now been ordered to forfeit all handbags and other previously seized products, it is prohibited from any activities involving commercial trade in wildlife for three years and has been placed on probation.

The 71-year-old Gonzalez had faced federal charges of illegally smuggling python and caiman skins for designer handbags from February 2016 to April 2019 and conspiracy. In adherence with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which both the U.S. and Colombia are signatories, python and caiman skin are protected.

The designer’s exotic skin handbags have attracted a celebrity clientele including high-profile style setters like Victoria Beckham. As a sign of Gonzalez’s label’s prestige, it was mentioned in the 2006 American film “The Devil Wears Prada,” when Anne Hathaway’s character received a major fashion overhaul, and Gonzalez’s signature handbags were also featured in the 2010 film “Sex and the City 2.” Gonzalez’s designs were at one time a key resource in 300 leading luxury stores including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford, Harrods and Tsum.

Giraldo was sentenced to time served, approximately 22 months based on incarceration in Colombia and the U.S. since his extradition, a year of supervised release and paying a special assessment. Another co-conspirator, John Camilo Aguilar Jaramillo, pleaded guilty on April 8 and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27. Giraldo and Jaramillo, who are also Colombian citizens, were extradited to the U.S. to face the charges that had been brought against them.

In response to Monday’s sentencing, Gonzalez’s attorney Sam Rabin told WWD that the sentencing has put out of business “a successful minority woman who supported 400 families with her business in a third-world country” referring to Gzuniga’s operations in Colombia.

Established in 1998 by Gonzalez, a mother of two, the company’s first collection — eight styles — debuted at Bergdorf Goodman. Her company’s site claimed the bags were sourced from local artisans in her hometown of Cali, Colombia, and that nearly every member of her all-female team were provided with day care for their children. Rabin of Rabin & Lopez said Monday, “She is effectively sentenced to a month in jail so there’s no deal. But she already served 14 months in Colombia so she will be out in a month.”

It has not yet been determined, which federal prison Gonzalez will serve her time in. But Rabin speculated that it would probably be a facility in Miami, once she is designated a location in a month or so.

U.S. attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida said Monday in a statement, “The press of business, production deadlines or other economic factors are not justification for anyone to knowingly flout the system and attempt to write their own exceptions to wildlife trafficking laws. In cooperation with our international partners, our office will continue to require strict adherence to laws that protect our endangered species.”

As for whether Gonzalez is interested in restarting her business down the road once the penalties are lifted, Rabin said, “Oh no, I think she just wants to get this behind her, then she will figure out what she will do moving forward.”

Rabin added, “Listen, I think this case should have been handled administratively. It was overkill to make a criminal case out of it. She also was unique in being able to establish a viable fashion house in a third-world country compared to the likes of [European houses] Prada, Gucci and the likes. They took that away from her for what amounted to very minor violations.”

The luxury accessories label specialized in vibrant-colored styles and ventured into collaborations with some top-notch artists including Kaws, Will Cotton, Jenny Holzer, Dr. Lakra and Jim Hodges.