Two New York City men were arrested Wednesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport and charged for illegally smuggling finches from Guyana, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said.
Twenty-six of the little birds were found stuffed in hair curlers and placed in the socks of the defendants, identified as Victor Benjamin, 72, of Brooklyn and Insaf Ali, 57, of the Bronx, 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,” said Gabriel Harper of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the complaint. “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.”
Those who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins can sell for $5,000 or more, Harper 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 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.”
Benjamin and Ali were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after they landed at the airport on a flight from Guyana.
The men made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn and were released on a $20,000 bond. They did not enter a plea.
If convicted they face up to 20 years in prison.