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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Florida Couple Arrested For Smuggling Lovebirds Protected Under The Endangered Species Act

A complaint was unsealed earlier today in Brooklyn federal court charging Robert Burgos and Vanessa Burgos with illegally importing a dozen Fischer Lovebirds into the United States in violation of the Endangered Species Act.  The defendants were arrested this morning in Avon Park, Florida, and their initial appearances are scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. at the United States Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.[1]   

The charges were announced by Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Ed Grace, Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Fischer Lovebirds, also known as Agapornis fischeri, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that protects wildlife that may become endangered due to the demands of international markets.  As a result, Fischer Lovebirds may be imported into the United States from a foreign country only if the importer possesses a valid CITES export or re-export permit from the foreign country of origin.

As alleged in the complaint, in late June 2015, a shipment of Fischer Lovebirds, arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, from Madrid, Spain, falsely labelled as Rosy-Faced Lovebirds (or Agapornis roseicollis), which are not CITES-protected. The shipment was imported by Aviary La Familia, Inc., a Florida-based company run by the defendants, and was being held at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) quarantine center in New York. 

Over the course of the investigation, the USDA sent photographs of the lovebirds from the June 11, 2015 shipment to FWS, and a forensic ornithologist at the FWS National Forensics Laboratory confirmed that the lovebirds were not Rosy-Faced Lovebirds, but were, in fact, Fischer Lovebirds. 

As further alleged, the investigation additionally revealed that the defendants allegedly traveled to Indonesia to pick out the Fischer Lovebirds and used Facebook to coordinate the smuggling of the Fischer Lovebirds from Indonesia, including by conspiring with others to falsify import paperwork.  The defendants also arranged for the Fischer Lovebirds to be shipped to Spain prior to entry into the United States in an attempt to evade U.S. restrictions on the import of birds from Indonesia that were in place at the time.

 “For personal profit, the defendants knowingly conspired to evade an international treaty and federal laws enacted to protect a species of birds from the demands of the commercial market, and they will be held to account,” stated Acting United States Attorney Rohde.

“The smuggling of protected birds into the U.S. jeopardizes the health and survival of our native bird species,” Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement Grace stated. “In this case, smugglers allegedly used false documents and purposely traveled through Spain to hide the fact that most of these birds originated in Indonesia.  The vigilance of our special agents and wildlife inspectors exposed this global wildlife trafficking scheme.”

Assistant United States Attorney Alicia N. Washington is in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:

 

ROBERT BURGOS

Age: 42

Avon Park, Florida

 

VANESSA BURGOS

Age: 32

Avon Park, Florida

 

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 17-MJ-306

 

[1] The charges in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

Topic(s): 
Wildlife
Updated April 25, 2017