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Man Caught At JFK Airport With Smuggled Finches Used In Singing Contests Hidden In Hair Curlers

A tiny finch that was smuggled.
A tiny finch that was smuggled. Photo Credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service

A 39-year-old man was nabbed by customs officials attempting to smuggle 34 live finches into the country to be used in singing contests in Brooklyn and Queens.

Francis Gurahoo, 39, of East Hartford, Connecticut, was arrested on Sunday, June 16, at John F. Kennedy International Airport with the finches stashed inside plastic hair curlers, said John Marzulli, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

According to an arrest document, the smuggled finches are used in singing contests in Brooklyn and Queens and wages are placed on the birds with the best voice at the contests.

Gurahoo admitted to officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that he had planned to sell the finches for approximately $3,000 each, totaling approximately $100,000, the arrest document said.

Officers working at JFK have intercepted numerous individuals trying to bring finches, which are small seed-eating birds, into the United States from Guyana by concealing the birds in various manners without declaring the birds on the required importation forms, the warrant said. 

All birds from foreign countries are required to be quarantined to prevent the possible spread of diseases carried by foreign birds, including Newcastle disease — a contagious avian virus that can infect humans and domestic poultry — and bird flu.

During the singing contests, often held in public areas like parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice. Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for in excess of $5,000, a Fish and Wildlife official said.

Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after. birds in the New York area.

Guarahoo told customs officials he knew what he was doing was wrong, but was brought in the birds for financial gain, the warrant said. 

He was scheduled to be arraigned later Monday, June 17. 

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