Purebred puppies were his drug mules, said Andres Lopez Elorez in federal court in New York Friday, according to the Department of Justice.
“I conspired together with an experienced veterinarian to introduce drugs into the United States of America through surgical implantation in dogs,” the 39-year-old said in court, through an interpreter, according to the New York Post. “I did this even though I knew I was wrong and I was committing a crime.”
Elorez, a Venezuelan working with smugglers in Medellin, Colombia , according to The New York Times, was also a vet, before he turned to using the animals for drug-running.
It was “one of the most outrageous methods of smuggling” one Drug Enforcement Administration official had ever seen , according to the newspaper.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Elorez said in court that he was in vet school at the time he rented land to conduct the surgeries for the smugglers, according to the Post.
Once the pups’ bellies were stuffed with bags of poison, they were shipped to the U.S., according to earlier reporting from the Post. The removal of the heroin from the dogs’ stomachs usually killed them.
The smuggling ring operated from 2004 to 2005, the Justice Department said in its news release. Elorez was indicted for conspiracy to import drugs into the U.S., along with nine others, in Nov. 2005, according to court documents, but Elorez eluded authorities until he was extradited from Spain to the U.S. in May.
A DEA official told the Times that when authorities found him in the Spanish town of Los Nogales, he worked as the only practicing veterinarian in town.
He was indicted again on May 1, according to a DEA news release, and began the plea bargain process on May 3, according to federal court documents.
“As alleged in the indictment, Elorez is not only a drug trafficker, he also betrayed a veterinarian’s pledge to prevent animal suffering when he used his surgical skills in a cruel scheme to smuggle heroin in the abdomens of puppies,” U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in the DEA release. “Dogs are mans’ best friend and, as the defendant is about to learn, we are drug dealers’ worst enemy.”
He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to the Justice Department.