Is That a Song Bird in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
Sonny Dong was walking through security at Los Angeles International Airport last month when inspectors noticed something odd: bird feathers and droppings on his socks and bird tail feathers under his pants. Upon closer examination it was discovered the 46-year-old Garden Grove resident had 14 live birds wrapped in cloth around his legs, and a subsequent search of his pal Duc Le's Garden Grove home turned up 51 more Asian songbirds.
The birds were all quarantined, Dong and 34-year-old Le were arrested and both men have just been slapped with an eight-count federal indictment of conspiring to smuggle birds and making false statements to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. If convicted, Le could get up to 26 years in prison and Dong up to 10 years.
Among the birds allegedly strapped to Dong's legs were magpie robins, shama thrush and red whiskered bulbuls, which are listed as an injurious species because they feast upon and spread exotic plants. Officials tell Courthouse News Service more money is made smuggling birds and animals into this country than any other product except drugs, but thousands of animals die in the trade.
A U.S. Attorney's statement posted on LawFuel.com states the investigation of the suspects actually started in mid-December, when officials with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at LAX discovered abandoned luggage that Dong had checked. Inside were 18 birds, five of which were dead. The CBP later learned that Dong was arriving at LAX from Vietnam on April 13, the date he was subjected to a secondary inspection that turned up the feathers, droppings and birds. The subsequent search of Le's residence uncovered an outdoor aviary consisting of approximately 70 large bird cages, according to court documents.