LATEST PAPER
73° Good Afternoon
73° Good Afternoon
News

Men tried to smuggle finches through JFK airport, feds say

The birds, usually from Guyana, are used in “singing contests,” officials said.

Federal authorities arrested two men Wednesday attempting to

Federal authorities arrested two men Wednesday attempting to smuggle more than two dozen finches in hair curlers through Kennedy Airport. Photo Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Two men were arrested Wednesday after federal authorities said they were caught attempting to smuggle more than two dozen finches in hair curlers through Kennedy Airport.

The arrests are the latest in what authorities said is a yearslong pattern of finch smuggling. The birds, usually from Guyana, are used in “singing contests,” which are popular among some groups of Caribbean immigrants, officials said.

The defendants, Victor Benjamin, 72, of Brooklyn, and Insaf Ali, 57, of the Bronx, had hidden 26 birds inside hair curlers that were tucked into clothing, according to a criminal complaint filed by United States Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Gabriel Harper in U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of New York.

Attorneys for the men did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After arriving on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana, the men were selected for a customs exam, and customs agents found the live birds. There were 14 birds in individual hair curlers found in Benjamin’s socks and 12 in Ali’s socks, according to the complaint.

The birds were confiscated and placed in sanitary cages, then quarantined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Harper said the men had not declared the birds to customs or followed proper importation procedures.

At a minimum, U.S. law requires people to apply for a USDA import permit, provide a health certificate and quarantine the animal for 30 days in a USDA import center at the owner’s expense before a single pet bird can be brought into the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In singing contests, two male finches are placed in cages next to each other, which encourages them to sing, and a judge determines which bird sang better. Finches from Guyana are highly sought for these contests, and wagers are often placed on the birds. Successful Guyanese finches can be worth upward of $5,000 in the United States, Harper wrote in the complaint.

Both Benjamin and Ali appeared before a judge in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday and were released on a $20,000 bond, said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York. If convicted on smuggling charges, they face up to 20 years in prison.

News photos & videos