US man caught at JFK with smuggled birds from Guyana

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A man who was caught at the John F Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York with birds he smuggled from Guyana was on Thursday charged and admitted to the offence of smuggling.

According to a New York Post article, Francis Gurahoo of Connecticut, United States, pleaded guilty when he appeared before Magistrate Judge Robert Levy in federal court. The charge stated that he tried to smuggle 34 live finches stuffed inside plastic hair rollers into the United States on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana through the JFK Airport.

The NY Post stated that the feds indicated that Gurahoo planned on selling the birds which are used in high-stakes bird singing competitions held in Brooklyn and Queens —the Carrie Underwoods of these avian “American Idol” contests can be sold for thousands of dollars.

Gurahoo admitted to US Customs and Border Patrol agents that he planned to sell the birds for US$3000 each, which would have made him about US$102,000, court papers state.
“I failed to report them,” Gurahoo is quoted by the NY Post as saying to the Judge in a plea of mitigation. “Instead I tried to sneak them into” the Eastern District of New York, he added.

“I have a family,” Gurahoo told the Judge. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Gurahoo could be sent to prison for from two years to 33 months.

The NY Post article stated that Brooklyn federal Judge Margo Brodie, who presides over his case, still has to sign off on his guilty plea. She could sentence him to less time than recommended under the guideline or give him probation.

“The birds he brought into this country are not illegal,” Attorney Eric Pack said.

The outer borough songbird contests, also known as “bird races”, are held in public parks like Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park in Richmond Hill. Birds are pitted against each other to see which can get to 50 tweets first or how many chirps they can belt out within a minute.

The contests attract bettors and winning finches can be sold for up to US$5000, according to court papers. The competitions have fuelled a black market for Guyanese birds, which are “believed to sing better” than their American cousins and “are, therefore, more highly sought after”, a US Fish and Wildlife agent wrote in court papers.