2009-04-24 / Top Stories

Bird Smuggling Case Closed

By Nicholas Briano

The Far Rockaway man who was charged with attempting to smuggle songbirds out of Guyana had part of his case dismissed from federal court last week after prosecutors failed to prove the origin and classification of the birds.

A Brooklyn federal magistrate dismissed the case because there were doubts about the ornithological classification of the chestnut-bellied grass finches.

Terrence McLean, 36, is off the hook because federal prosecutors couldn't establish within a reasonable doubt that the 13 finches that he tried to smuggle through John F. Kennedy Airport were in the "Fringillidae" family of birds, which would then protect the birds under Guyanese laws, making it illegal to smuggle them out of the country.

McLean was arrested in 2006 when he came home from Guyana, hiding the finches in plastic hair curlers inside his carry-on luggage. Officials say the birds are used in high-stakes singing contests run in the Guyanese community in Richmond Hill, Queens, where birds with the best singing voices can be worth more than $5,000.

He did plead guilty, however, in failing to declare the birds to United States Customs agents and will likely face a fine of up to $25,000, but says he wasn't guilty of the charge, which states he knowingly violated Guyanese law by smuggling the birds.

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