California man gets 4 months in prison for smuggling songbirds, hiding them in pants

Monday, June 7, 2010

Calif. man gets prison for smuggling songbirds

LOS ANGELES — A man who smuggled Asian songbirds into the country by hiding them under his pants during a flight from Vietnam to Los Angeles was sentenced Monday to four months in prison.

Sony Dong, 46, of Garden Grove, was also ordered to pay $4,000 in restitution to federal authorities who are caring for the birds.

Dong came under investigation in December 2008 when customs inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport found an abandoned piece of luggage that contained 18 birds, five of which were dead, and determined that he had checked it while boarding a flight in Vietnam.

In April 2009, customs officials determined that Dong was scheduled to fly from Vietnam and arrive at LAX. They conducted an inspection and saw bird droppings on his socks and feathers peeking out from under his pants.

Fourteen live birds were found attached to pieces of cloth wrapped around his calves. When officials served a search warrant at Dong’s home, they found 51 additional songbirds.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark A. Williams said a songbird sells between $800 and $1,000 on the black market.

Dong pleaded guilty to illegally importing wildlife.

Prosecutors said the ringleader of the operation, Duc Le, bought plane tickets for Dong and instructed him to purchase the birds and smuggle them into the U.S.

Le, 34, also of Garden Grove, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy and illegally importing wildlife. He was sentenced Monday to six months in prison, and ordered to pay more than $25,000 in restitution. He and Dong will both go on three years probation after serving their prison terms.

Williams said the birds, which are in quarantine, will be donated to zoos and aviaries.

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