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Case Goes to Jury Amid Squawks, Whistles

September 28, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ The principal evidence whistled and squawked plaintively in a federal courtroom Wednesday as four people were found guilty of smuggling the endangered birds into the country from Cuba.

A scarlet macaw allegedly smuggled in to the United States from Cuba occasionally cried out ″agua,″ Spanish for water, as the jury deliberated.

The jurors convicted three defendants of one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which regulates movement of endangered species, and two counts of violating it. The fourth was convicted only on the violation counts, but all could face up to 10 years in prison.

A fifth defendant was acquitted of all charges, but remains in custody in a separate cocaine case.

The defendants were arrested in the Florida Keys in April and charged with illegally importing $250,000 worth of exotic birds from Cuba. Six of the 243 confiscated birds, including the macaw, a Cuban Amazon parrot, a pair of melodious finches and a mustached parakeet, were brought into court as evidence.

″This isn’t just a wildlife case; this is a money case,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Gelber. ″According to the information we have recieved the parrot carries a price tag of $3,000, the macaw $2,500. ... They were going to make a lot of money.″

The defendants claimed they did not bring the birds from Cuba, but were transporting them from Miami to the Florida Keys when they had engine trouble and radioed the Coast Guard.

″It is not my responsibility to prove where the birds came from,″ said defense attorney Ellis Rubin. ″It’s the government’s responsibility, and they have not done so.″

In another development, two defendants free on bond in the bird case were arrested as they left the courtroom Tuesday.

Carlos Fernandez, 27, was indicted for unlawful possession of a machine gun, and Rigoberto Cherta Garcia, 42, was accused of marijuana conspiracy.

The other bird-smuggling defendants convicted were Nancy Lopez, 50, and Jose Flores, 24. Felix Valdes, 39, was acquitted, but faces the cocaine charge.

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