Two men charged in NY with smuggling birds from Guyana

Two men were arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for illegally smuggling finches from Guyana. (Customs and Border Protection photo)

Two men were arrested on Wednesday at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for illegally smuggling finches from Guyana, according to an ABC news report.

According to the report, the two men, Victor Benjamin, 72, of Brooklyn and 57-year-old Insaf Ali, of the Bronx have been charged with illegally smuggling the birds from Guyana.

Twenty-six of the little birds were found stuffed in hair curlers and placed in the socks of the defendants, according to a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York. “My investigation has revealed that individuals keep finches to enter them in singing contests,” Gabriel Harper of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in the complaint, according to the news report. “In such contests, often conducted in public areas like parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice,” he was further quoted as saying.

The men attending  the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins can sell for US$5,000 or more, the US official said.

“Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after,” Harper further said in the complaint. “An individual willing to smuggle finches into the United States from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling these birds in the New York area.”

The report said that Benjamin and Ali were stopped by US Customs and Border Protection after they landed at the airport on a flight from Guyana.

The men made an initial appearance in the US District Court in Brooklyn and were released on a US$20,000 bond. They did not enter a plea.

If convicted they face up to 20 years in prison.

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