The benefits were only first class for these stars: 35 songbirds were discovered hidden inside a hair curler in menswear when it arrived at New York’s Kennedy International Airport this week, authorities said.
The man, Kevin Andre McKenzie of Guyana, is now facing a federal smuggling charge, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which said he admitted to being offered $ 3,000 to bring birds into the country from South America.
Customs identified the birds as finches, which authorities said had selected Mr McKenzie, 36, to check when he arrived on a JetBlue flight from Georgetown, Guyana, on Monday.
Known for their singing ability, finches have become a valuable commodity in places like Brooklyn and Queens, where caged birds are in competition, often in parks. Usually the winners are those who can sing the fastest or longest, collecting not only bragging rights for their owners, but also money for gambling – not to mention the oversight of law enforcement officers that led to a series of previous arrests. There is also a premium for vocal abilities.
“In such competitions, which are often held in public areas such as parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird found to have the best voice,” Kathryn McCabe, a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a criminal complaint. against Mr. McKenzie.
In photos taken by customs agents, hair curlers put the inside of the jacket of the suit Mr. McKenzie was wearing and wrapped his legs under his pants, the complaint said.
“Although certain species of finches are available in the United States, it is believed that species from Guyana sing better and are therefore more valuable,” Ms. McCabe said.
Mr McKenzie was released on $ 25,000 bail after appearing for the first time in Brooklyn U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
James Darrow, Federal Public Defender Mr. McKenzie, declined to comment Wednesday.
Under federal law, a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service is required to bring any wildlife into the country. Birds imported for commercial purposes must be quarantined for 30 days to prevent the spread of diseases such as bird flu and Newcastle disease, a contagious bird virus that can infect humans and domestic poultry, officials said.
Seedy finches with a chestnut belly captured in Guyana are highly sought after attempts, and males are sometimes sold for as much as $ 10,000, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducted a multi-year investigation nicknamed Operation G-Bird, which focused on illegal smuggling esteemed competitors.
Mr McKenzie’s arrest was the third time that customs agents have intercepted smuggled finches at JFK airport in the past month.
Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they did found 29 finches smuggled in hair curlers from a JFK passenger, who was fined $ 300 and sent back to Guyana. There was another man last week caught smuggling 40 finches at the airport. He was also punished and returned to Guyana.
In 2019, a man from Connecticut was charged with smuggling 34 finches that were nestled inside plastic hair curlers and placed in hand luggage at JFK. A year earlier, two men had been arrested at JFK and charged with smuggling 26 birds between them with hair curlers wrapped in socks.