Orange County Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Second Conviction of Illegally Importing Protected Asian Songbirds
LOS ANGELES – A local man has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for conspiring to unlawfully import Asian songbirds from Vietnam to the United States.
Sony Dong, 56, of Westminster, was sentenced Monday morning by United States District Judge S. James Otero, who immediately remanded Dong into custody.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Otero noted the “deplorable” conditions under which the birds were smuggled, and further noted that if birds died while in route that was something looked upon as a cost of doing business.
Dong admitted in a plea agreement that he recruited a courier who travelled to Vietnam on several occasions and brought back Asian songbirds that were packed into one or more suitcases in a manner designed to escape detection by U.S. authorities. At the conclusion of one trip in December 2016, the courier arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, where authorities discovered 30 Asian songbirds concealed in two suitcases.
Each of the 30 birds found in the suitcases was a Chinese Hwamei, Garrulax canorus, a species of Asian songbirds protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Each of the birds was packed in a tiny wooden box that was placed under a layer of foil within each suitcase. At the time the birds were discovered at LAX, Dong was waiting at the airport to pick up the courier and receive the Asian songbirds.
Judge Otero noted that Dong previously was convicted of wildlife trafficking charges. In June 2010, Dong was sentenced to four months imprisonment after pleading guilty to causing the unlawful importation of Asian songbirds into the United States. In that case, Dong smuggled Asian songbirds into the United States by having the birds strapped to both of his legs. During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Otero noted that the prior prison term apparently was insufficient to deter Dong from criminal conduct.
The sentence imposed on Dong also recognized the fact that the unlawful importation of the Asian songbirds caused a substantial risk of disease transmission. The United States Animal Plant Health Inspection Service has identified Vietnam as a region with highly pathogenic avian influenza.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigation, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo provided assistance.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Dennis Mitchell of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.