Posted: Monday, May 21, 2018 – 3:05 PM
(CNS) – A previously convicted bird smuggler from Orange County was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle endangered “good luck” songbirds into Los Angeles from Vietnam.
Sony Dong, 56, who was also ordered to pay a $5,500 fine, was taken into custody immediately following the hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said the conditions in which the tiny birds were trafficked — concealed in suitcases or taped to the legs and ankles of smugglers — were “deplorable.”
On multiple occasions, Dong and his partners traveled to Vietnam to smuggle back the small, colorful birds, which are at risk of extinction and protected under the federal Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The Garden Grove resident was arrested in December 2016 at Los Angeles International Airport while awaiting the arrival of alleged co-conspirator Quang Truong’s China Airlines flight from Vietnam.
When LAX screeners checked Truong’s luggage following the 8,000-mile journey, they found more than two-dozen birds in suitcases rigged to include hidden cages. Truong was charged with conspiracy, but the status of his case remains sealed.
Dong pleaded guilty to the federal conspiracy count in the case.
In 2010, Dong was sentenced to four months in federal prison after he was found with 14 live Asian songbirds, individually wrapped in cloth, strapped to his legs and ankles as he tried to pass through LAX following a 15-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City.
The tiny Chinese hwamei songbirds — which reportedly cost a few dollars apiece in Southeast Asia — fetch between $500 and $1,000 when sold illegally at certain Chinese markets in Southern California. They are thought to bring good luck.
Illegal trafficking in wildlife has been ranked the fourth most valuable illicit economy in the world, behind illegal drugs, arms trafficking and human trafficking, according to federal prosecutors. The trade is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion a year.