Federal authorities say a man is facing charges for allegedly trying to smuggle seven rare parrots into the United States from Canada as he walked across the border into Vermont.
Jafet Rodriguez of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, was in federal court in Burlington on Thursday where he made an initial appearance to face charges of importing birds in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
According to court records, five of the parrots seized from Rodriquez were yellow-headed Amazons and two were white-bellied parrots.
Rodriquez was released on conditions after the hearing Thursday pending further court proceedings, including an arraignment where he would enter a plea to the charges against him.
The incident leading to the charges took place late last year, however, court records related to the case were sealed until this week, according to filings. The records were sealed, the filing stated, pending Rodriquez’s arrest which took place late last month.
According to records filed in the case, Rodriquez was spotted around 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 30 by border patrol agents near the Haskell Free Library in Derby Line, which straddles the international line.
The court records stated that video surveillance showed him walking into Canada, opening a car door and retrieving a black bag from a vehicle parked on Church Street in Stanstead, Quebec.
Rodriquez then walked into the United States with the bag “without presenting himself for inspection” and entering another vehicle with people inside parked on Caswell Avenue in Derby Line, according to court documents.
Authorities approached the vehicle and saw Rodriquez inside as well as the birds. Rodriquez initially denied carrying the birds across the border, the filing stated.
VTDigger is underwritten by:
Later, according to the charging documents, “Rodriquez admitted to making arrangements with individuals in New York in order to purchase several birds from an individual in Canada.”
He also told authorities that one of the seven birds belonged to him, and he took it with him because he didn’t want to leave it at home, the filing stated.
“Due to this bird being commingled with the other smuggled birds and their unknown origin and lack of documentation,” the court documents stated, “all seven birds were seized and quarantined.”
According to the filing, people either exporting or importing wildlife into the United States must complete the proper paperwork, and a check completed in late January showed that Rodriquez had not done so.
Online searches show that the white-bellied parrots are valued at between $1,000 to $2,000, and yellow-headed Amazons valued at between $2,000 and $3,000.
Neither the federal public defender representing Rodriquez, nor the federal prosecutor handling the case, could immediately be reached Thursday for comment.
Mark LaBarr, conservation program manager with Audubon Vermont, said Thursday that while he was not an expert on the parrots in this case he did know that smuggling is a problem that targets rare birds.
“Birds, bird eggs, have been smuggled for many, many years,” he said, adding that smuggling rare birds hinders the ability of the species to increase as a result of them being removed from their natural habitat.
The rarer a bird may be, LaBarr added, the more value it would have to a collector.
“Often for people who buy parrots, who collect parrots, they are looking for parrots that you can’t buy at pet stores,” he said. “These birds must have been valued enough that it was worth trying to smuggle them into the United States.”
Stay on top of all of Vermont's criminal justice news. Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on courts and crime.