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.
Today is #NationalBirdDay. @CBP agriculture specialists at @JFKAirport have caught several passengers from Guyana attempting to smuggle finches concealed within hair rollers. #CBP works diligently to prevent foreign and exotic animals from being sold on the black market! pic.twitter.com/WZxHEcpCEL— Director of Field Operations, Francis J. Russo (@DFONewYork) January 5, 2022
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.
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.”
“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.
During a secondary baggage inspection at JFK Sunday, CBP officers discovered 29 finches concealed in hair rollers. After consulting with @USFWS, CBP ag specialists quarantined the finches and turned them over to @USDA Veterinary Services.— CBP (@CBP) April 1, 2021
More ➡️ https://t.co/uoosRYYNNj pic.twitter.com/izhAvNcsks
On Saturday, CBP agriculture specialists discovered finches concealed in hair rollers inside a man’s baggage at @JFKairport for the second time in less than a month.— CBP (@CBP) April 21, 2021
More details: https://t.co/IaO1iqpSAS pic.twitter.com/Ofqa9G1RJB
Our @CBP Agriculture Specialists seized finches being smuggled by a passenger coming from Cuba in small medicine plastic bottles which is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. #ProtectingWildlife pic.twitter.com/WEelFR0pfF— Port Director of Miami International Airport (@CBPPortDirMIA) February 27, 2020
This year @CBP JFK has intercepted over 100 finches being smuggled into the U.S. These birds are tiny but mighty! They are sought for their high octane singing voice & can fetch over $25,000 each! @CBP & @usfws work hard to protect these birds & bring their smugglers to justice pic.twitter.com/jbcSY4xeVZ— Port Director Salvatore Ingrassia (@CBPPortDirJFK) September 3, 2021