Two men were arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport after they were caught smuggling 26 birds through customs for — of all things — singing competitions.
According to the criminal complaint, on April 4, Victor Benjamin and Insaf Ali arrived to JFK on a Jamaica Airlines flight from Georgetown, Guyana. Upon their arrival, both Benjamin and Ali were selected for a customs examination.
The examination revealed that Benjamin had 14 finches and Ali had 12 finches concealed in hair curlers and placed in their socks.
An investigation revealed that the defendants keep finches to enter them in singing contests in the Eastern District of New York. In these contests, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice. Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds, and a winning bird could be valuable and can sell for in excess of $5,000.
While a certain variety of finches are available in the United States, finches from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after.
Searches of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found that Benjamin and Ali did not apply for nor receive permits authorizing the importation of the birds into the United States. Additionally, their CBP stated that they were entering the United States without any wildlife.
The birds were placed in sanitary cages where they will later be transferred to the USDA for quarantine.