Miami Resident Sentenced For Smuggling Birds from Cuba
Hovary Muniz, 39, of Miami, was sentenced today in Fort Lauderdale, for his involvement in an attempt to import undeclared wildlife from Cuba, in violation of the federal anti-smuggling statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 545.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Resident Agent in Charge David Pharo, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, Major Alfredo Escanio, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, South Region Bravo, and Christopher D. Maston, Port Director for Miami International Airport, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), made the announcement.
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn sentenced Muniz to four months of home confinement with electronic monitoring and a term of three years’ probation, with the special condition that he perform 200 hours of community service.
According to the charges, statements in court, and an agreed upon factual statement Muniz was intercepted at Miami International Airport on January 9, 2016, returning to the United States aboard a flight originating in Havana, Cuba. In a CBP Entry Declaration, Muniz claimed he was not carrying any birds or other wildlife. When specifically questioned by CBP Officers, Muniz verbally repeated that he had no birds to declare.
In a subsequent pat-down, CBP officers found that MUNIZ was carrying plastic tubes concealed in his underwear and in a fanny pack hidden beneath his shirt, containing live birds. Muniz was found to be transporting nine live birds, including five Cuban Melodious Finches (Tiaris canora), one Cuban Bullfinch (Melopyrrha nigra), one Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus), one Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), and one Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea).
Under federal law, all wildlife, including birds, being imported into the United States must, be made available for inspection and properly declared to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and CBP, pursuant to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 14.52 and 14.61. Some wildlife is also subject to quarantine before they can be released into the country. The purpose of the quarantine regulations are, in part, to protect both commercial and wild species of avians in the United States from possible exposure to diseases such as Exotic Newcastle’s and other maladies against which they would have no natural immunity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cuba is considered a high-risk source country for high pathogenic avian influenza and Exotic Newcastle’s disease.
During the continuing investigation, utilizing aircraft provided by the CBP Air & Marine Branch, agents detected the presence of active bird-traps at Muniz’s residence and executed a search warrant which located additional Cuba-origin specimens and various domestic species of birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Customs & Border Protection Officers at Miami International Airport, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Air & Marine Branch, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, who investigated this matter. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.