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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Coral Gables Resident Pleads Guilty And Is Sentenced For Possession Of Migratory Birds

Wifredo Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Major Alfredo Escanio, Commander of South Region Bravo, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, announced that Jose E. Souto, 71, of Coral Gables, pled guilty and was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams for his involvement in the illegal possession of thirty-four specimens of migratory birds, protected by federal law and regulation, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Title 16, United States Code, Sections 703 and 707(a), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.

Judge Williams sentenced Souto to the maximum criminal fine under the statute, $15,000, and a one month term of probation. Additionally, pursuant to the plea agreement, Souto must abandon the thirty-four avians, a cage, and a bird trap seized by the government pursuant to a search warrant, and he must also make a donation of $7,500 to the Tropical Audubon Society for the purpose of funding research, education, and monitoring of migratory birds and their habitats in South Florida.

According to the Court documents and a joint factual statement executed by the parties, Souto, at the time a resident of Coconut Grove, was observed by a knowledgeable citizen to possess numerous migratory birds at his residence. Aware that the birds were subject to the protections of the MBTA, the citizen alerted Fish & Wildlife Service Special Agents. A review of federal records revealed that Souto held no valid permits to take and possess any migratory bird as defined in the MBTA and the implementing regulations. A search warrant subsequently executed at the residence located 34 birds, including among other MBTA listed species, thirteen Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), four Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea), nine Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris), one Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca cycaerulea), and three Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus). These species are among a number of native migratory bird species that have diminished significantly over their range in the Eastern United States in recent years.

In order to protect migratory birds from over-exploitation, the MBTA makes it unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or egg of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof, subject to certain exceptions not applicable in this case. The protected species are listed in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 C.F.R. Part 10.13, and in the absence of valid permits, may not be taken or possessed.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. The case was prosecuted by Certified Legal Intern Natalie Harrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

Updated March 12, 2015