'Finch-Smuggling Kingpin' Arrested Due to Hair Curlers

And he's been sentenced to a year and a day in prison
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 15, 2023 1:08 PM CST
'Finch-Smuggling Kingpin' Arrested Due to Hair Curlers
Finch-free curlers.   (Getty Images / Albina Kidinova)

A man who repeatedly admitted scheming to smuggle finches from Guyana into New York for birdsong competitions was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in prison. It was Insaf 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," Ali pledged in a video he submitted to the court, "because it's trouble." Stuffed into curlers and concealed to evade detection, finches sometimes die as they're flown to the US, and US Customs and Border Protection worries that such smuggling could spread bird diseases.

Ali, 62, pleaded guilty last summer to conspiring to import wildlife illegally. He was stopped at John F. Kennedy Airport in January 2022 with two packs of hair curlers, "items essential to his unique trade," reports the Washington Post. 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, reports the AP.

Prosecutors argued in a Jan. 31 memo that Ali deserved “significant” prison time, calling him “one of New York’s finch-smuggling kingpins." His lawyer, Christine Delince, said after court that she was disappointed in the sentence, which came after she and Ali detailed his longtime affinity for birds during a life fraught with personal and medical problems. Delince said in a Jan. 26 memo that Ali is "incredibly remorseful" for a crime fueled by a love of seed finches that dates to his childhood in Guyana and has provided him solace through many personal difficulties.

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Songbird competitions have been a pastime in the Caribbean for centuries. Aficionados judge the animals on such factors as how many times they chirp or sing. But birds from Guyana are considered superior to those native to the US, and winning birds can fetch upwards of $10,000, notes the Post, fueling wildlife trafficking that authorities in Latin America and the US have tried to combat. (More weird crimes stories.)

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