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Three international smugglers tried to sneak 18 small finches through Kennedy Airport in hair rollers as they flew the tiny songbirds in from Guyana, the feds alleged
The little birds can mean big profits at songbird competitions in Brooklyn and Queens, and the trio tried to slip them past customs packed in a blue “Happy Birthday” bag hanging from a wheelchair handle, according to a federal complaint.
All three men were indicted last week in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Ramchandra Kuldip and Chaitram Hubert flew into JFK from Guyana on a Caribbean Airlines flight on April 20, where they met Basant Doman, who works as an airport employee passenger assistant, prosecutors alleged.
Hubert was sitting in a wheelchair with the bag on his lap, and Doman pushed him into the baggage area before Hubert handed him the bag, prosecutors said.
Doman hooked that bag onto the back of the wheelchair, and Hubert got up to see to his other luggage.
Kuldip approached both men to talk with them, and after that, Doman rolled the empty wheelchair to a different area of the airport.
The ruse didn’t work — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent stopped Doman and found the birds in the bag, partially covered by a napkin, prosecutors said.
Kuldip and Doman sang after that, revealing the scheme to investigators, according to the complaint. Kuldip admitted to buying five of the birds himself in Guyana, for US$50 each.
Wildlife importers need a permit to bring animals into the U.S., and commercial birds need to be quarantined for 30 days to prevent the spread of disease.
The birds are often entered into singing contests at parks — two birds warble, and a judge picks the one with the best voice, while attendees place bets, according to the complaint. The winning birds can sell for more than US$10,000.
The three suspects were arrested in September and released on US$10,000 bond. Their attorneys did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.
Last year, another alleged smuggler, Kevin Andre McKenzie, tried a similar scheme in the airport, sneaking 35 finches in hair rollers in his suit jacket and wrapped around his ankles, prosecutors allege. His case is still pending in Brooklyn Federal court. (extracted and edited from Yahoo!Finance)