“Finch-smuggling kingpin” sentenced to year in jail for trafficking songbirds into United States

A man considered by prosecutors one of “New York’s finch-smuggling kingpins” has been sentenced to prison for repeatedly, illegally bringing in songbirds from Guyana.

Insaf Ali was sentenced by federal court to one year and one day in prison for trafficking the birds for singing competitions usually by stuffing the helpless birds in hair curlers. The 62-year-old repeat offender pledged he would stop for good.

“I’m going to stay away from the birds,” Ali said a video played for the court last week, “because it’s trouble.”

He pleaded guilty last summer to conspiring to import wildlife illegally after being caught at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in January, 2022 with two packs of hair curlers.

He was previously arrested in 2018 carrying 70 live finches smuggled in hair curlers jammed in his socks at JFK. He later pleaded guilty to smuggling and was handed a $7,800 fine plus two years’ probation.

Songbird competitions are popular in some cultures. The little chirping birds can cost thousands of dollars, but they can die in transit and spread disease to domestic flocks.

Prosecutors called Ali “one of New York’s finch-smuggling kingpins” who deserved “significant” jail time after he pleaded guilty for most recent crime.

U.S. authorities captured the smuggler and his birds at JFK. Photo: US Customs and Border Protection

Ali’s lawyer wrote to the court saying her client is “incredibly remorseful.” She said his love for the birds developed during his upbringing in Guyana.

“His actions were not just about money,” she wrote, suggesting he was little more than a courier.

The birds, Christine Delince added, “are a part of him and a part of his culture.”

Prosecutors disagreed.

“The defendant is not a courier; he is the boss. He is infamous in his community as one of New York’s finch-smuggling kingpins, and by his own admission he has been involved in this activity for decades,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Zuckerwise wrote in a Jan. 31 filing with the court.

Songbird smuggling is an ongoing problem.

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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