In another life, Francis Gurahoo could have pursued a career as a hairdresser.
But the three dozen plastic hair rollers stashed in their luggage were not meant for delicious curls. Instead, the authorities found 34 colorful finches inside these rolls – each capable of producing songs for thousands of dollars.
If they win, that is.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say Gurahoo's attempt to smuggle live birds from Georgetown, Guyana, through John F. Kennedy International Airport Sunday was not inspired by his love of South American songbirds. The 39-year-old admitted that he was "motivated by financial gain" and planned to sell the finches to about $ 3,000 each. A successful scheme would have net him more than $ 100,000.
His plan was falsified by a customs investigation according to a complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York.
Smuggling of finches – via hair rollers, toilet paper rolls, tights or socks that others have tried, according to New York Times – is hardly a new concept.
US Customs and Border Protection Officers working at the airport have caught "many" people trying to sneak the birds in the United States from Guyana in recent years, according to the complaint, using creative methods to avoid the cumbersome import process.
If they do it through the checkpoint, these birds are being pitched against each other in song competitions at public parks in Brooklyn and Queens, where a judge determines which has the "best vote". Sometimes it is a race to see which finch can sing most songs.
While several species of finch exist in North America, some people really believe Guyanese finches "sing better", making them more attractive, according to prosecutors. Smugglers in turn profit by importing crooners to the United States. Finches, winning the aviolodol competition, is extremely valuable and can sell up to $ 5,000, the complaint says. A male finch with "a good pedigree and track record" can net its owner $ 10,000, the Times noted.
The complete character of Gurahoo's taxes was not immediately clear and his lawyer could not be reached on Monday's comment. Gurahoo did not apply for permission to import the birds legally, the complaint said, and instead chose to bypass the mandatory 30-day quarantine.
Like many animals flown in from abroad, imported commercial birds must first be quarantined to prevent the spread of disease, including bird flu and Newcastle disease, an infectious and fatal disease that attacks the nervous system of birds and poultry. Some in the smuggling argue that quarantine can be stressful for the birds, Times reported negatively affecting their vocal beliefs.
The customs authorities did not return a request for comments on Monday, but told the Times in December that they had caught almost 200 guyanese finches at Kennedy International Airport last year. Officers are not disturbed by the eyes of finches, as they say is the animal most often traded through the airline.
The efforts of federal officials to stop finch smuggling stem from more than a decade, documented by a 2006 US Fish and Wildlife Service Survey. 235-page report entitled "Operation: G-Bird," describes the agency's hidden analysis of illegal import of finches. According to the Times, the survey resulted in more arrests and confiscation of about 150 birds.
More than 13 years later, Kennedy Airport is still a popular source of smuggling for finches and virtually any other animal or plant you could imagine. Dead or alive.
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