From alligators to tarantulas, Miami is one huge pet shop

Maybe Riptide has been watching too much Animal Planet, but we can't help thinking Miami's crop of critter smugglers deserves its own special miniseries. Like cocaine and hookers, there's a booming market for exotic animals in this classy city, and just imagine the drama: There will be suitcases full of snakes, old Cuban guys, cops with handcuffs, and — almost certainly — somebody caught with a monkey down his underwear.

Two thumbs up.

To get our pilot series rolling, we compiled some highlights from recent animal crime busts because, well, if you have to get arrested, it should be for something creative. Like crossing the border with tarantulas in your socks.

January 2009: Cops pulled over Cirilo Ruiz's white van at an I-95 checkpoint and noticed some strange roadtrip buddies: four Class 3 ring-tailed lemurs, which look like the midget cousins of a monkey. Cirilo was on his way to sell his tiny friends in North Carolina, according to the police report, but — oops! — totally forgot his permits.

March 2009: When cops arrived at Benny Santigo's house in Homestead, they found a freshly skinned alligator tail on the ground. Benny had a perfectly normal explanation: On the way home from the racetrack, the big lizard spooked him, so he shot it with a 30-millimeter handgun. "Instead of letting it rot," he said, "we decided to bring it back home to eat."

April 2009: Ramon Puente's jeans and sweatshirt were soaked with sea water when cops spotted him. In the back of his green Chevy Suburban were buckets, spear guns, and a large cooler, which they popped open. Inside was an endangered Atlantic Sea Turtle — creatures that grow five feet long and 650 pounds — just chilling like a big green six-pack. Asked what he was doing, Ramon explained: "I didn't know it was there."

April 2010: Kelvin Soto-Acevedo pleaded guilty to selling $8,000 worth of brown tarantulas online. Along with slider turtles, he shipped them, like an eight-legged Christmas present, in boxes to Puerto Rico. The name of his business: A Touch of Class.

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