A 38-year-old Colombian vet has appeared in a New York court, accused of injecting liquid heroin into puppies to evade border control.
Andres Lopez Elorez was arrested in Spain on a US warrant and extradited to the United States on Monday. If convicted on conspiracy charges, he risks spending at least 10 years - and potentially life - behind bars.
His arrest was part of a 12-year Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into a drug smuggling ring and he was remanded into custody, pending trial, US officials said.
Prosecutors say he used his vet skills to surgically implant packets of liquid heroin into the bellies of puppies transported from Colombia to the United States.
Once in America, the heroin was surgically removed, officials said.
Puppies rescued from a farm in Colombia. Source: US Drug Enforcement Administration
Ten puppies were discovered in a raid on a makeshift clinic in Colombia in 2005. The New York Times said three of the dogs later died as a result of infections.
"As alleged in the indictment, Elorez is not only a drug trafficker, he also betrayed a veterinarian's pledge to prevent animal suffering," said Richard Donoghue, the US lawyer based in Brooklyn.
"Dogs are man's best friend and, as the defendant is about to learn, we are drug dealers' worst enemy."
US officials say Elorez was part of a Colombian-based conspiracy from September 2004 to January 2005 that smuggled heroin into the United States using various methods to conceal the narcotics from detection.