QUEENS — Two men were arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport after federal authorities say they tried to illegally smuggle 26 finches into the United States by hiding them in hair curlers.
Victor Benjamin, 72, of Brooklyn, and Insaf Ali, 57, of the Bronx, were caught Wednesday with the songbirds after being chosen for customs inspection, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.
The men had traveled with the birds from Georgetown, Guyana.
During the inspection, authorities searched Benjamin and Ali's luggage and discovered the finches concealed in hair curlers, stashed in their socks. Benjamin had allegedly concealed 14 birds; Ali had 12 birds.
The birds were confiscated, placed in sanitary cages and will later be transferred to the United States Department of Agriculture.
A further investigation reveals the two men did not apply for nor receive permits to bring the birds into the country.
Officials say finches are used in singing contests for money. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for in excess of $5,000.
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, officials say. Someone willing to smuggle finches into the United States from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling these birds in the New York area.
Benjamin and Ali have been released on $20,000 bond and are awaiting trial. If convicted, they can serve up to 20 years in prison each.
In March, a man got caught a JFK with 20 live finches in curlers inside his carry-on. He also flew in from Guyana.