A Virginia man was sentenced Monday to 27 months in prison for being part of a conspiracy to smuggle rare and exotic birds into the United States.
Harold Yanik of Charlotte Courthouse, Va., was sentenced in San Diego by U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving. A jury had earlier found him guilty of agreeing to sell eight birds to an undercover government informant.
In the sale, on Dec. 5, 1987, the informant paid Yanik $3,175 for each of the eight birds, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Cynthia Millsaps, who was in charge of the case and worked in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The birds, black palm cockatoos, are illegal in the United States unless born here, in which case they could fetch $25,000 to $35,000 each. They are rare in their natural habitat, which covers New Guinea, several islands in Indonesia and a peninsula in northern Australia.
Yanik, who was responsible for brokering of the birds, was part of a 13-person conspiracy, whose members were arrested in May, 1989. The other 12 pleaded guilty, including one who testified against Yanik, Millsaps said.
Although the eight birds survived, others in the hands of the smugglers died because of the rigors of the covert trip from Southeast Asia, Millsaps said.
The cockatoos were first taken to Singapore, where the phony documentation was arranged, she said. After that, the birds were flown air freight, via Hong Kong, to Mexico City. There they were put on a domestic flight to Tijuana where they were kept in a safehouse until a buyer was located.
When the birds where smuggled into the United States, they were injected with a tranquilizer and stuffed into secret compartments of vehicles. The birds were given enough tranquilizer to make sure they would be quiet during the wait at the border, which might take several hours.