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An unidentified songbird rests on charred branches near a desert marsh as recovery from a 2005 wildfire continues at Big Morongo Wildlife Preserve on April 11, 2007 in Morongo Valley, California.
Back in March, U.S. customs officials at L.A. International Airport said they snared a man who’d tried to enter the country with live songbirds from Vietnam strapped onto his legs. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says that on Tuesday, the suspect sang.
During a court appearance in May, the man, Sonny Dong, pleaded not guilty to a charge of illegally importing wildlife. Now, he’s changed his tune. In addition to 14 songbirds wrapped in cloth and secured under his pant legs, customs investigators found another 18 birds in Dong’s luggage.
Court papers say that five of the birds were dead after the 15-hour flight from Vietnam. Prosecutors say that Dong made multiple smuggling excursions between his home in Garden Grove and Vietnam, and that he catered to customers who were willing to pay as much as $400 for each bird.
Customs authorities have quarantined the living birds that Dong should have declared upon his arrival in the United States. The smuggling charge against him carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. An alleged accomplice who’s pleaded not guilty is scheduled to go on trial next month.