A judge heard arguments Monday but delayed sentencing a Fountain Valley man who admitted smuggling nearly 100 tiny Asian songbirds - - most of which died in transit -- in his luggage on a flight from Vietnam.
Kurtis Law brought 93 of the colorful birds -- worth a total of more than $90,000 on the black market -- into the country on March 24. Investigators who searched his luggage at Los Angeles International Airport determined that the birds were at risk of extinction and protected under the federal Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Prosecutors said the birds were individually wrapped and placed in Law's suitcases under "horrific conditions" in a way "that allowed each bird little or no movement." All but eight of the 93 birds ultimately died.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real heard from a prosecutor, Law's attorney and the 50-year-old defendant himself, but delayed imposing a sentence until Oct. 16. The judge said he needed time to "think it out."
Federal prosecutors asked Real to sentence Law to two years behind bars. The defense recommended probation.
In a letter to the court, Law described himself as "Jane Goodall to the Asian bird world," a reference to the British conservationist known for her support of animal welfare issues. He told Real that his main interest was in protecting the birds and giving them new homes.
Prosecutors wrote that Law is "a large-scale trafficker in protected birds for profit -- birds that risk extinction because of traffickers like him."
Law's attorney countered that there is no evidence that Law was attempting to profit from the birds.
Law pleaded guilty in July to one felony count of importing wildlife contrary to law.
Court documents show that songbirds can be purchased in Southeast Asia for $1 or $2 each and fetch as much as $1,000 apiece in the United States.
The protected birds found in Law's luggage were Bali myna, Chinese hwamei, red-billed leiothrix and silver-eared mesia. Such birds are sold illegally at some Chinese markets in Southern California and are thought to bring good luck.