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Man smuggled 93 ‘good luck’ songbirds from Vietnam in his luggage — all but eight died, authorities say

A Fountain Valley man was sentenced today to six months in home detention, followed by a year behind bars, for smuggling nearly 100 tiny “good luck” songbirds — most of which died in transit — in his luggage on a flight from Vietnam.

Kurtis Law brought 93 of the colorful birds — worth an estimated $90,000 on the black market in the Southland — into the country on March 24. Investigators who searched his luggage at Los Angeles International Airport determined that the birds were at risk of extinction and were protected under the federal Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

According to court documents, songbirds can be purchased in Southeast Asia for $1 or $2 each, but fetch as much as $1,000 apiece in the United States. The protected birds found in Law’s luggage were Bali myna, Chinese hwamei, red-billed leiothrix and silver-eared mesia. Such species are sold illegally at some Chinese markets in Southern California and are thought to bring good luck.

Prosecutors said the birds were individually wrapped and placed in Law’s suitcases under “horrific conditions” in a way “that allowed each bird little or no movement.”

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All but eight of the 93 birds ultimately died. Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Manuel Real to sentence the 50-year-old defendant to two years behind bars, warning of a “heightened risk of recidivism.”

The judge handed down a lesser sentence, but rejected the defense argument to keep Law out of prison.


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