Price of Bird’s Freedom: 18 Months in Prison for Quarantine Official


Nan Crandall, the bird lover, got 18 months in prison Monday. All that time because of the rare yellow-tailed black cockatoo.

U.S. District Judge William Byrnes said he did not want to give her that stiff a sentence, that it was too much considering the crime, but he had no choice because of the state’s mandatory sentencing laws. He said a first-time bank robber would get less time.

“I wish I’d never laid eyes on that bird,” said the 62-year-old Crandall who, until the cockatoo caper, was never out of sorts with the law.


Specifically, Crandall was convicted of accepting gratuities--read that five birds--from commercial dealers in exchange for releasing their shipments from quarantine early when she worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She swears she did not know it was a felony.

But the incident that began the march to the courtroom was when she let the cockatoo out of federal quarantine too early at the behest of a federal undercover agent.

In 1991, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, posing as a dealer, asked if she could expedite the 30-day quarantine requirement for the yellow-tailed black cockatoo he was importing from New Zealand. Crandall complied, later saying she feared that the bird would contract the deadly beak and feather disease that had infected the quarantine area months earlier.

Agents discovered during their investigation that she had accepted five birds from other dealers for whom she had eased the quarantine requirements. Because she was a government employee, parts of the mandatory sentencing applied to her case that did not to others caught in the sting operation. Byrnes called the sentence “absurd” but said there was nothing he could do.

Her court-appointed lawyer, David R. Reed of Beverly Hills, described the sentence as being “like dogs piling on a rabbit.”