12 January 2005 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Some Birds Were Infected with Exotic Newcastle Disease
Two Inland Empire residents have pleaded guilty to their roles in a scheme that
smuggled hundreds of protected parrots from Mexico, Central America and South
America into the United States, where they were sold at a swap meet in Ontario.
Juan Gonzalez-Villavicencio, a 37-year-old Hesperia resident, pleaded guilty
yesterday to a conspiracy charge that alleged he schemed both to smuggle protected
wildlife into the country and to make false statements to officials with the United
States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Corrina Leanna Conn, a 36-year-old Hesperia resident, pleaded guilty yesterday to
one count of making a false statement to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to plea agreements and other documents filed in federal court in Los
Angeles, Gonzalez and Conn began smuggling parrots from Mexico into the United
States as far back as 1997. Gonzalez, because he had already been convicted of
violating the Lacey Act by smuggling birds from Mexico, recruited a thirdperson,Guillermo Araujo, to actually bring the birds into the United States. Araujo made more than 30 trips on behalf of the conspiracy.
Because the birds were being smuggled, they were not declared to the Fish and
Wildlife Service, they were not inspected for disease and they were not quarantined
as required by United States Department of Agriculture regulations. Two of the
shipments in 1999 tested positive for exotic Newcastle Disease (END). The birds were sold at the Macklin Swap Meet in Ontario for as much as $500 each.
END is an extremely contagious and nearly always fatal viral infection that affects
all species of birds. END is probably one of the most infectious diseases of
poultry in the world, with death rates of almost 100 percent occurring in
unvaccinated poultry flocks.
In 1971, a major outbreak occurred in commercial poultry flocks in Southern
California. The disease threatened not only the California poultry industry but the
entire domestic poultry and egg supply. A total of 1,341 infected flocks were
identified, and nearly 12 million birds were destroyed as a result of the disease.
The eradication efforts cost taxpayers $56 million ($228 million in 2002 dollars),
severely disrupted the operations of many producers and substantially increased the
prices of poultry and poultry products to consumers.
During the fall of 2002, private and commercial poultry flocks were again struck by
an END outbreak, which cost millions of dollars in response, containment and the
destruction of flocks. As a result of this outbreak, more than 3 million chickens
in California, Nevada and Arizona had to be destroyed.
For more information on END, see:
As part of her guilty plea, Conn specifically admitted that she lied to a special
agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service during an interview in 2000. Specifically,
Conn falsely denied that she knew Araujo.
Araujo was arrested August 19, 1999, at the international border crossing at San Ysidro, where he was caught with 35 birds worth more than $12,000 in his car.
Araujo was charged by the United States’ Attorney’s office in San Diego with one
felony count of smuggling. After pleading guilty, Araujo was sentenced to six
months in federal prison.
Gonzalez and Conn pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Terry J.
Hatter Jr., who is scheduled to sentence both defendants on April 4. At sentencing,
both defendants face up to five years in federal prison.
This case is the result of an investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service, the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.