Brooklyn Boro

Man arrested at JFK with 35 live finches inside his coat, pants legs

Birds were to compete in 'sing-off'

April 27, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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“The bird was the word” for a man who had flown in from Guyana and was arrested at JFK International Airport on Monday — after a Customs inspection revealed that he had had approximately 35 live finches concealed in his suit jacket and beneath his pants legs.

Each bird was hidden inside a hair curler. with grating at each end to prevent it from escaping.

After being found with the finches, the defendant, Kevin Andre McKenzie, confessed that he had been offered $3,000 to smuggle the birds into the United States, according to court papers. 

McKenzie was paid $500 before the flight, and he expected to receive the remaining $2,500 when he exited Customs, according to a deposition by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Kathryn McCabe, sworn before U.S. Magistrate James Cho in Brooklyn Federal Court.

McKenzie was released on $25,000 bond, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. His defense attorney is James Darrow of Brooklyn Federal Defenders.

Kevin Andre McKenzie smuggled the finches in his coat. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

According to Agent McCabe, some peoples keep finches to enter them in singing contests in Brooklyn and Queens. In such contests, often conducted in public areas like parks, two finches sing, and a judge selects the bird who has best voice. Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. 

A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $10,000, the court document continued. “Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more valuable.”

Under federal law, importers of wildlife are required to file a signed and completed Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife to declare the importation of any wildlife. In addition, they need a permit from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

Commercial birds also must be quarantined for 30 days, to prevent the spread of diseases carried by foreign birds, such as Newcastle disease, a virus that can infect humans and domestic poultry, according to McCabe.

Maybe the finches couldn’t stop singing, and that’s what tipped off customs inspectors at JFK, one observer commented.

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