Six Defendants Charged With Collectively Trafficking Over Four Hundred Migratory Birds
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Luis J. Santiago, Special Agent in Charge, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Region; Alfredo Escanio, Major/Regional Commander, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Division of Law Enforcement, South B Region; Martin G. Wade, Director, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations, Miami Air and Marine Branch; Pedro Ramos, Superintendent, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks (NPS); and Antonio J. Gomez, Postal Inspector in Charge, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Miami Division, announce the filing of federal charges against 6 defendants in 6 separate cases for their involvement with the trafficking of over 400 migratory birds.
In 1918, Congress enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for the protection of migratory birds. Now in its 100th year, the MBTA prohibits, inter alia, the pursuit, hunting, taking, capture, killing, possession, sale, barter, purchase, shipping, exportation, and importation of migratory birds. Migratory birds are listed at Title 50, Code of Federal Regulation, Section 10.13.
Working independently and separately from each other, these six charged defendants used sophisticated methods to traffic protected wildlife, specifically migratory birds. The methods included bird traps augmented by electronic birdcall broadcast systems powered with solar panels and rechargeable batteries; baited bird traps spread throughout the region as collection points; the erection of mist nets at one end of a field during migration season and the operation of a truck from the other end of the field to flush hundreds of migratory birds into the mist nets; the strategic deployment of specially formulated adhesives to glue migratory birds to tree limbs and sticks; and the hunting of migratory birds, in particular the illegal hunting of raptors with rifles. They also used traditional smuggling techniques to unlawfully transport the captured wildlife. These techniques included the shipment of migratory birds to buyers across the country in boxes with hidden compartments; the use of a false name and address on airmail shipments; false statements on customs declarations; and the concealment of the protected wildlife in hair curlers taped to a defendant’s body, beneath baggy pants.
In some instances, the wildlife trafficking in these cases involved severe animal cruelty and resulted in injury to the birds. Some of the trafficked birds showed signs of having sustained injuries while attempting to flee captivity. Some of the birds, specifically some of the hawks, were actually dead at the time of sale and other birds died shortly after purchase. One defendant left the captured birds entangled in netting, where they were preyed upon by wild dogs and cats. Another defendant maimed some of the migratory birds by ripping out their tail feathers. A third defendant, believing that a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) was a threat to his inventory of migratory birds for sale, threw the animal against a wall and affixed it to a wooden cross. The defendant filmed this activity and uploaded the images onto a private internet chat group that he used to advertise migratory birds for sale.
In the course of these investigations, undercover USFWS and FWC agents purchased and/or seized migratory birds from all six of these defendants. After a determination that the release of the seized wildlife is safe and appropriate, USFWS will return hundreds of these birds into the wild.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office stands alongside our law enforcement and community partners as we strive to protect our natural resources and wildlife, including the diverse migratory bird population, that make South Florida such a vibrant environmental sanctuary,” stated U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “Today’s announcement reinforces our continued commitment to the federal prosecution of individuals who pose a threat to our nation’s wildlife, in particular our protected bird species.”
"The 100th anniversary of the Migratory Birds Treaty Act is a good time to remind Americans of the benefits we all enjoy from a land that is rich in birds and all wildlife,” said Special Agent in Charge Luis Santiago, USFWS Southeast Region’s Office of Law Enforcement. “Our work enforcing this law and others recognizes the value Americans place on wildlife, and it is important to make sure that future generations can enjoy these as well.”
“We are honored to have been a part of these important enforcement efforts,” stated Major Alfredo Escanio, FWC Regional Commander. “We want to get the word out that these birds are protected, and ask the public to let us know if they see anyone trying to trap or sell these birds.”
“As fellow aviators, we at CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) were particularly excited to participate in this case, to help set these ‘ornery’ birds free to fly again. AMO uses its specialized capabilities to serve and protect the American people. That includes working with our partners to enforce hundreds of U.S. laws, including the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Jeff Maher, Deputy Director, CBP Air Operations at the Miami Air and Marine Branch.
"The American people are investing billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and this kind of illegal poaching activity cannot be tolerated,” stated NPS Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “I am grateful to all of our partner agencies, the investigators, and the Department of Justice professionals who have worked on these important cases. Through their hard work, not only are we able to protect important species of birds, but also protect the investments being made in Everglades restoration ultimately for the benefit of future generations."
“As shown through this announcement, violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty threaten the livelihood of innocent animals,” said Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge, USPIS Miami Division. “This case demonstrates that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to work tirelessly with our partners to enforce all federal laws that are in place to protect U.S. residents and wildlife. We are proud that our collaborative efforts were successful in bringing justice to the animals horrifically harmed and removed from their natural habitats.”
Today’s announcement reaffirms the collective commitment of federal, state and local authorities to the prosecution of wildlife traffickers. The cases brought under this operation include:
- United States v. Juan Carlos Rodriguez, a/k/a “El Doctor,”
Case No. 18-CR-20141-MOORE
On March 1, 2018, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, 54, of Homestead, was charged in an eighteen-count indictment with selling, offering for sale, bartering, and offering to barter migratory birds.
According to the indictment, between May 2014 and November 2016, Rodriguez trafficked in migratory birds, including Puerto Rican Spindalises (Spindalis portoricensis), Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), Puerto Rican Bullfinches (Loxigilla portoricensis), Yellow-faced Grassquits (Tiaris olivaceus), Blue Grosbeaks (Passerina caerulea), Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea), Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii), Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus), Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris), Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra), Screech-Owls (genus Megascops), and Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus).
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USFWS, FWC, CBP, CBP Air and Marine Operations and USPIS in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
- United States v. Miguel Loureiro, Case No. 18-CR-20164-MARTINEZ
On March 8, 2018, Miguel Loureiro, 27, of Homestead, was charged in a thirty-six-count indictment for participating in a conspiracy to take migratory birds for commercial purposes, selling and offering migratory birds for sale, and taking migratory birds.
According to the allegations contained in the indictment, beginning in January 2016 and ending in December 2017, Loureiro and a co-conspirator trafficked in migratory birds, including Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea), Blue Grosbeaks (Passerina caerulea), Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus), Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris), White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella palida), and Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum).
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USFWS, FWC, and NPS. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
- United States v. Hovary Muniz, Case No. 18-MJ-2496-SIMONTON
On April 3, 2018, Hovary Muniz, 42, of Miami, was charged by criminal complaint with knowingly selling and offering migratory birds for sale.
According to the criminal complaint, Muniz pled guilty in 2016 to smuggling migratory birds from Cuba into the United States in a fanny pack. In 2017 and 2018, while on probation for the wildlife trafficking offense, Muniz offered Yellow-faced Grassquits (Tiaris olivacea), a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), and other migratory birds for sale.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USFWS and CBP in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jaime Raich and Tom Watts-FitzGerald.
- United States v. Corbo Martinez, Case No. 17-CR-20596-WILLIAMS
On August 24, 2017, Alberto Iran Corbo Martinez, 38, of Hialeah, was charged in a three-count indictment with smuggling goods into the United States and using a false document.
According to the indictment, Corbo Martinez imported Cuban Bullfinches (Melopyrrha nigra) and a Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceous) from Cuba. He concealed those importations by hiding the birds in hair curlers taped to his legs, beneath baggy pants, and by making false declarations on customs forms.
Mr. Greenberg commends the investigative efforts of the USFWS and CBP in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Watts-FitzGerald.
- United States v. Reynaldo Mederos, Case No. 18-CR-20140-LENARD
On March 1, 2018, Reynaldo Mederos, 28, of Miami, was charged in a seven-count indictment with selling and offering to sell migratory birds.
According to the indictment and publicly available documents, beginning in July 2016 and ending in November 16, 2017, Mederos trafficked in migratory birds, including Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea), Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris), and Blue Grosbeaks (Passerina caerulea).
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USFWS in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
- United States v. Carlos Hernandez, Case No. 17-CR-20759-MARTINEZ
On October 26, 2017, Carlos Hernandez, 34, of Miami, was charged in a six-count indictment with trapping, selling, and offering to sell migratory birds.
According to the indictment and publicly available documents, beginning in January 2016 and ending in April 2017, Hernandez trapped and trafficked in migratory birds, including Blue Grosbeaks (Passerina caerulea).
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USFWS and FWC in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.
If convicted of the charged conduct, the defendants each face a possible maximum statutory sentence of 5 years in prison for the conspiracy charges and 2 years in prison for trafficking in migratory birds, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
An indictment or a criminal complaint is an accusatory instrument that contains formal charges against a defendant. All persons charged in an indictment or criminal complaint are presumed innocent, unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The public is encouraged to report any instances of illegal wildlife trapping and trafficking to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-3922 or by email or text to Tip@MyFWC.com.