LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man who smuggled 14 Asian songbirds in his pants was sentenced to four months in federal prison. Duc Le, who hired Sony Dong to smuggle the birds from Vietnam, received six months in federal prison.
Dong, 46, of Garden Grove, Calif., pleaded guilty to smuggling after Customs and Border Patrol agents nabbed him arriving at the Los Angeles International Airport with three red-whiskered bul-buls, four magpie robins and six shama thrush attached to pieces of cloth that were wrapped around his calves.
Customs agents had been watching Dong since December 2008, after they discovered 18 birds, five of them dead, in his abandoned luggage.
When he arrived from Vietnam in April 2009, agents searched Dong and found “bird feathers and bird droppings on his socks, as well as birds’ tail feathers visible under his pants,” which led them to the live birds wrapped around his legs, prosecutors said.
It is illegal to bring birds from Southeast Asia into the country because of the Bird Flu epidemic, said assistant U.S. attorney Mark Williams. One of the birds Dong smuggled in, the red-whiskered bul-bul, is listed as injurious to local habitats under federal law.
Williams said that there is an “active black market” for songbirds in Southern California.
“There are quite a few collectors that collect them for their singing abilities,” he said. “That’s what drives the price: whether and how they were bred and their singing abilities.”
Williams added that a well-bred songbird can cost more than $1,000 on the black market.
Another Garden Grove man, Duc Le, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for hiring Dong to smuggle the birds. Investigators found 51 songbirds at Le’s residence during a search, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson this week sentenced Dong to four months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $4,000 for the upkeep of the birds. Wilson sentenced the 34-year-old Le to six months in federal prison and ordered him to pay more than $25,000 in restitution.