A man repeatedly caught trying to smuggle finches from Guyana into New York for birdsong competitions has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
Insaf Ali, 62, was stopped at John F Kennedy Airport in January 2022 with two packs of hair curlers that smugglers use to slip the small birds past customs officials.
It was Ali’s second time being sentenced in a Brooklyn federal court for a crime related to bird trafficking, and he vowed it would be his last.
“I’m going to stay away from the birds,” he pledged in a video he submitted to the court, “because it’s trouble.”
Ali pleaded guilty last summer to conspiring to import wildlife illegally.
He was previously arrested in 2018 carrying finch-stuffed hair curlers in his socks at JFK, authorities said.
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 31 January that Ali deserved “significant” prison time, calling him “one of New York’s finch-smuggling kingpins”.
Songbird competitions have been a pastime in the Caribbean for centuries, with the birds judged on such factors as how many times they chirp or sing.
While the birds sometimes fetch thousands of dollars, the contests have fed wildlife trafficking that authorities in Latin America and the US have tried to combat.
Finches sometimes die as they are flown to the US, stuffed into curlers and concealed to evade detection.
US Customs and Border Protection are also worried that such smuggling could spread bird diseases.
Ali’s lawyer, Christine Delince, asked for leniency.
She said that Ali is “incredibly remorseful” for a crime fuelled by a love of seed finches that dates to his childhood in Guyana and has given him solace through many personal difficulties.
“His actions were not just about money,” she wrote, saying the birds “are a part of him and a part of his culture”.