Wildlife Trafficker Sentenced to Prison For Selling Migratory Birds
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Alfredo Escanio, Major/Regional Commander, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Division of Law Enforcement, Southern B Region, and Martin G. Wade, Director, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations, Miami Air and Marine Branch, announced that Hovary Muniz, 41, of Miami, was sentenced to prison on July 23, 2018, for knowingly selling and offering for sale, migratory birds, that is, approximately seven Yellow-faced Grassquits (Tiaris olivaceus) and a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Sections 703, 706, 707(b)(2) and (d), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.
Muniz has been sentenced to a total of 15 months in prison for criminal offenses involving migratory birds. Muniz was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro to 7 months in prison, to be followed by 1 year of supervised release, for selling and offering the migratory birds for sale (Case No. 18-CR-20335). This sentence will run consecutive to a probation violation term of 8 months in prison, imposed by U.S. District Court Judge James I. Cohn, in a separate matter involving migratory birds (Case No. 16-CR-20183).
According to the charges, statements in court, and a Factual Statement executed by the parties, from February 2017 through February 2018, while on federal probation, Muniz offered for sale and sold migratory birds. On five separate occasions an internet user, with the profile name “Hovary Toqui Muniz” (determined to be Muniz), placed posts on a private Facebook group chat site, containing photos of either Yellow-faced Grassquits or a Lazuli Bunting with commentary offering the various birds for sale, with prices up to $400. In addition to other conduct, Muniz also offered to sell a Blue Grosbeak imported from Cuba for $1,000.
At the time of his criminal conduct, Muniz was on probation for a separate offense involving migratory birds. In January 2016, Muniz was intercepted at Miami International Airport, after returning to the United States aboard a flight originating in Havana, Cuba. In a CBP Entry Declaration he claimed he was carrying no birds or other wildlife, and repeated that claim when questioned by CBP Officers. In a subsequent pat-down, CBP officers found that Muniz was in fact carrying plastic tubes concealed in his underwear and in a fanny pack, containing migratory birds. Specifically, five Cuban Melodious Finches (Tiaris canora), a Cuban Bullfinch (Melopyrrha nigra), a Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus), an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), and a Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea). Muniz was convicted of failing to declare the wildlife and make it available for inspection, pursuant to Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 14.52 and 14.61. Muniz was sentenced to 4 months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, and 3 years of probation. Muniz violated the conditions of his probation by subsequently selling and offering migratory birds for sale.
It is a felony violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to knowingly “take by any manner whatsoever any migratory bird with the intent to sell … such bird.” 16 U.S.C. § 707(b)(1). It is further a felony violation of the MBTA to sell, offer for sale, barter, or offer for barter any migratory bird. 16 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2). Under Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 10.12, “migratory bird” means, in relevant part, any bird, whatever its origin and whether or not raised in captivity, which belongs to a species listed in 50 C.F.R. § 10.13, “… including any part, nest, or egg of any such bird . . . .” Lazuli Buntings (Passerina amoena), and Yellow-faced Grassquits (Tiaris olivaceus) are listed as migratory birds.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the USFWS, CBP Air & Marine Branch, and FWC, who investigated this matter. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Jaime Raich.