Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Songbirds

A Garden Grove man pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling songbirds into Los Angeles from Vietnam.

Authorities said he did so by strapping more than a dozen of the tiny Asian warblers to his calves in hopes of avoiding detection.

Sony Dong, 46, entered his plea in U.S. District Court to one count of  illegally importing wildlife, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20  years in federal prison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Williams said.

Dong and co-defendant Duc Le, 34, were named in an eight-count federal  indictment in May charging them with illegally importing wildlife, including  one injurious species, and lying to investigators.

Both were arrested after investigators discovered Dong had 14 live Asian  songbirds, individually wrapped in cloth, strapped to his legs and ankles as  he tried to pass through Los Angeles International Airport, according to court  documents.

A subsequent search warrant executed at Le's home uncovered 51 additional songbirds and numerous cages, prosecutors said.

Le is set to face trial Oct. 27 before U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.

The colorful singing birds are sold to collectors and exhibitors in the  United States for up to $400 apiece, Williams said.

The investigation started late last year, when Customs officials at LAX  discovered luggage allegedly abandoned by Dong containing 18 birds, five of  which were dead, court papers show.

In early April, agents determined Dong had again flown to Vietnam and  was scheduled to return. When he arrived at LAX after the 15-hour flight from  Hanoi, a search turned up bird feathers and droppings on his socks, as well as  tail feathers visible under his pants.

After he was brought to a quarantine area, agents searched Dong and  discovered 14 live birds attached to two flat pieces of cloth wrapped around  his calves, prosecutors said.

The birds included three red-whiskered bul-buls -- listed as an  injurious species under federal law -- four magpie robins and six shama thrush.  Under federal law, an injurious species is one that presents a health risk to  humans, forestry or agriculture.

After linking Le to Dong's activities, investigators executed a search  warrant at Le's home and found an outdoor aviary consisting of about 70 large  bird cages that contained 51 Asian songbirds, according to court documents.

Federal law requires that all wildlife, including birds, be declared to  customs at the port of first arrival in the United States.

Both men are free on bond and the birds are in quarantine, prosecutors  said. 

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