MIAMI -- Alberto Diaz Gonzalez, 76, of Miami, pled guilty today in Miami, 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, according to Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Resident Agent in Charge David Pharo, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, Alysa Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, and Vernon Foret, Director of Field Operations, Miami Field Office, Customs and Border Protection.
U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard accepted the plea of guilty and scheduled sentencing for February 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm. At sentencing, Diaz Gonzalez faces a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison, to be followed by up to 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
According to the charges, statements in Court, and a Factual Statement executed by the parties, Diaz Gonzalez was intercepted at Miami International Airport on October 20, 2012, returning to the United States aboard a flight originating in Havana, Cuba. In a Customs and Border Protection Declaration submitted by Diaz Gonzalez, he claimed he was carrying no birds or other wildlife. When specifically questioned by CBP Officers, Diaz Gonzalez verbally repeated that he had no birds to declare.
In a subsequent pat-down, a total of 16 Cuban bullfinches (Melopyrrha nigra), sometimes referred to as “Negritos de Cuba,” were found concealed in pockets sewn into the interior of the pants he was wearing and in a plastic cylinder in a pants pocket. Upon further questioning after discovery of the birds, Diaz Gonzalez admitted to acquiring the birds during his trip to Cuba and that it was his intent to sell the Cuban bullfinches within the United States.
Under federal law, all wildlife, including birds, being imported into the United States must, before being released for lawful entry, first be made available for inspection and properly declared to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Customs and Border Protection, 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 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.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.