Bird singing contests are popular — and often involve gambling — in the Guyanese community.
Marlon Hariram, who was accused of smuggling finches into the U.S., leaves Brooklyn Federal Court after pleading guilty Thursday.
The Birdman of Guyana admitted Friday he had something up his sleeve when he tried to clear Customs at Kennedy Airport.
Marlon Hariram claims the finches hidden in his coat were intended solely as pets, but the feds say the protected songbirds are sold for singing contests in public parks in Queens.
“Prior to the flight I put them in my jacket so they would be hidden from view,” Hariram, who hails from Guyana and now lives in New Jersey, told Brooklyn Federal Judge Dora Irizarry.
The birds were packed in cardboard toilet paper rolls then covered with netting and packaging tape.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Trowell said the birds have a market value of more than $5,000 and the government has lined up an ornithological expert from Oregon to inspect the finches. Several of the nine did not survive the May 20 journey from Georgetown, Guyana, but the prosecutor did not say how many died.
Hariram, 31, pleaded guilty to three felonies — smuggling, lying on the Customs declaration form and bringing in an animal without a permit — and faces a maximum of one year in prison.
But if he can prove that the birds were worth less than $5,000, the maximum sentence is cut to six months, defense lawyer Len Kamdang said.
The singing contests are popular in the Guyanese community and frequently involve placing bets on which bird has the best voice, according to court papers.
Finches from Guyana are thought to be better singers than the American variety.