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Press Release

Orange County man convicted of smuggling Asian songbirds into the U.S.

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

            LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles federal jury has convicted a Garden Grove man of smuggling Asian songbirds into the United States concealed in his suitcase at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

            Can Thanh Nguyen, 63, was found guilty Thursday of importing and bringing Asian songbirds into the United States in violation of federal law. 

            Nguyen, who had a long history of international travel, landed at LAX April 20 of last year.  At a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) kiosk, Nguyen stated he was not carrying any animals or animal/wildlife products. However, he was subsequently referred by a CBP officer to a secondary agricultural inspection point.  While Nguyen was in that inspection area, CBP personnel discovered 27 Asian songbirds that had been carefully concealed in his suitcase. The birds were hidden in cages wrapped in foil or newspaper underneath a layer of foil and clothing to avoid detection.  Special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) responded to investigate.

            “This case demonstrates my office’s commitment to prosecute those who criminally exploit wildlife that is threatened with potential extinction,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section in my Office is dedicated to protecting endangered species and our eco-system.”

            Eleven of the Asian songbirds birds found in Nguyen’s suitcase were identified as Chinese Hwamei, Garrulax canorus, a type of Asian songbird which is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Two of the birds found in the suitcase were already dead, and several others died shortly after.

            “This verdict should serve as a warning for individuals who are cashing in by trafficking and selling exotic wildlife that they will be held accountable for their crimes,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for Los Angeles HSI. “Their greed and reckless disregard causes incalculable harm to our environment.”

            “One of the highest priorities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement is to investigate individuals and companies that are involved in the unlawful commercial trafficking and smuggling of protected animals and plants here and around the world,” Said Jill Birchell, special agent in charge of the regional office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This investigation demonstrates our commitment to pursue those who violate fish and wildlife laws for commercial gain as well as those that drive the illegal bird trade nationally and internationally.”

            Nguyen’s sentencing is set for June 27. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

            In addition to HSI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CBP, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided substantial assistance with the case.

Updated May 7, 2018

Press Release Number: 16-063