Sven Koppler, 37, was arrested on Thursday after arriving in Los Angeles to meet an associate, following a nine-month investigation imaginatively dubbed ‘Operation Spiderman.’
The probe began in March when customs officers found 300 live tarantulas during a routine search of a package.
US Fish and Wildlife agents then intercepted a second package containing nearly 250 live tarantulas in plastic containers, as well as 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas.
In a bid to catch the organisers red-handed, agents posed as buyers and ordered more tarantulas from Koppler, who walked straight into their web and sent a package containing 70 live ones and one dead spider.
Koppler, from Wachtberg near Bonn, allegedly earned around $300,000 from tarantula sales to spider fanciers in dozens of countries, including nine in the United States.
According to an affidavit, a number of the packages included spiders whose import was in breach of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
If found guilty, he could face 20 years in jail and a fine of $250,000, according to prosecutors.
“Sending light and small packages containing tarantulas is the best way to avoid customs detection around the world,” Koppler allegedly claimed in email exchanges with an undercover US agent.
Koppler added that he could in theory smuggle tarantulas in his luggage when flying to Los Angeles, and would not be caught nine times out of 10. But he preferred not to take the risk.
“I am a foreigner and they will probably put me in prison. You have special laws. You have other laws that we don’t have,” in Germany, he said, according to the affidavit.