On September 14, 1998, a thin, bespectacled Malaysian named Wong Keng Liang walked off Japan Airlines Flight 12 at Mexico City International Airport. He was dressed in faded blue jeans, a light-blue jacket, and a T-shirt emblazoned with a white iguana head. George Morrison, lead agent for Special Operations, the elite, five-person undercover unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was there to greet him. Within seconds of his arrest, Anson (the name by which Wong is known to wildlife traffickers and wildlife law enforcement officers around the world) was whisked downstairs in handcuffs by Mexican federales, to be held in the country's largest prison, the infamous Reclusorio Norte.
To Morrison and his team, Anson Wong was the catch of a lifetime—the world's most wanted smuggler of endangered species. His arrest, involving authorities in Australia,Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States, was a hard-won victory, the culmination of a half-decade-long undercover operation still widely considered the most successful international wildlife investigation ever.
For too long in too many countries (including the U.S.), placing the word "wildlife" in front of the word "crime" had diminished its seriousness. U.S. federal prosecutors wanted Anson's conviction to show the world that wildlife smugglers are criminals. In addition to charging him under the American wildlife-trafficking law known as the Lacey Act, they indicted him for conspiracy, felony smuggling, and money laundering.