Man who tried to smuggle birds for birdsong contest jailed in New York US News

A man who repeatedly tried to smuggle finches from Guyana to New York for a birdsong competition has been jailed for a year and a day.

In January 2022, Insaf Ali, 62, was stopped at John F. Kennedy Airport with two packs of curling irons that smugglers were using to trick birds from customs officials.

This is the second time Ali has been sentenced in Brooklyn federal court for crimes related to bird trafficking, and he vows it will be his last.

“I’m going to stay away from the birds,” he promised in a video submitted to the court, “because they’re a nuisance.”

Ali pleaded guilty last summer to conspiring to illegally import wild animals.

Authorities said he was arrested in 2018 at JFK Airport with a hair curler stuffed with birds in his sock.

In that case, he pleaded guilty to smuggling and was sentenced to two years probation and a $7,800 fine.

Prosecutors argued in a memo dated Jan. 31 that Ali deserved a “substantial” sentence, calling him “one of New York’s finches smuggling ringleaders.”

Songbird competitions have been a Caribbean pastime for centuries, with birds judged on factors such as the number of times they chirp or sing.

While the birds can sometimes fetch thousands of dollars, the contests fuel the wildlife smuggling that authorities in Latin America and the United States are trying to crack down on.

Finches sometimes die en route to the U.S., stuffed in curlers and hidden to evade detection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also concerned that such smuggling could spread bird diseases.

Ali’s attorney, Kristin Delins, pleaded for clemency.

She said Ali was “extremely remorseful” for the crimes sparked by his childhood love of seed finches in Guyana and had offered him comfort in many personal difficulties.

“His actions were not just about the money,” she wrote, adding that the birds “are part of him and part of his culture.”

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