The hair curlers in a flier’s carry-on luggage were worth about $100,000 — thanks to the 34 prized finches that were stuffed inside them, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said.
Francis Gurahoo, a 39-year-old Connecticut man, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Sunday when he was caught trying to smuggle the live birds from Guyana into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
The birds compete in singing contests in Queens and Brooklyn, and Gurahoo confessed that he was planning to sell each one at $3,000 a bird, according to prosecutors. He’s set to appear in federal court on Monday afternoon.
In the last few years, JFK customs agents have stopped a number of travelers trying to sneak the seed-eating birds into the U.S. “in various manners without declaring the birds on the required importation forms,” a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services special agent said in a criminal complaint, which the U.S. Attorney’s Office shared with McClatchy.
About a year ago, two other men were accused of similarly smuggling birds at JFK, in that instance using socks as well as hair curlers, McClatchy reported in April 2018.
The special agent said in the complaint against Gurahoo birds can sell for $5,000 or more, and that “an individual willing to smuggle finches into the United States from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling these birds in the New York area.”
During the singing contests, which are often held in public parks, two birds sing against each other after spectators place bets, and then a judge declares a winner, the special agent said.
“Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after,” the agent wrote.
The agent said that searches of Fish and Wildlife Service databases showed Gurahoo hadn’t applied for or been given a permit to import the birds. He’s accused of violating federal rules that require animal importers to declare wildlife and get permits, as well as federal rules requiring imported commercial birds to be quarantined for a month.
“This requirement exists to prevent the spread of diseases carried by foreign birds, including Newcastle disease — a contagious avian virus than can infect humans and domestic poultry — and bird flu,” the special agent wrote.