August 5, 2005
R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of
Florida, Resident Agent in Charge Eddie McKissick, United States Fish &
Wildlife Service, Alan Christian, Director of Investigative & Enforcement
Service, United States Department of Agriculture, and Jeffrey Baldwin, Port
Director, Department of Homeland Security, Customs And Border Protection,
announced today that defendant, Mercedes Ruiz,
Ruiz, using a motorized wheelchair to smuggle wildlife. Photo by USFWS
54, of Miami, was convicted yesterday on her plea of guilty before
United States District Court Judge Alan S. Gold, in Miami, for her
attempted importation of undeclared wildlife and for making false
statements on a Customs Service Declaration, in violation of the Lacey Act,
Title 16, United States Code, Section 3373 and the false statement statute,
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001.
According to the criminal charges and statements in Court, Ruiz
departed for Cuba from Miami on June 26, 2004. She returned to Miami on
June 28, aboard a flight connecting through the Commonwealth of the
Bahamas. After landing, Ruiz, who was using a motorized wheelchair, was
encountered on the baggage floor of Concourse E at Miami International
Airport by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Officer and his partner 'QT', a
member of Miami’s Beagle Brigade. The Beagle Brigade is a team of trained
canines, who along with their handlers, are charged with inspecting
passengers and luggage entering the United States to prevent the possible
introduction of destructive pests in food and fruit items carried by
passengers. In this instance, QT alerted to the area around the base of
Ruiz’ wheelchair. Inspection revealed the presence of several cloth
pouches, bungee-corded to the underside of the chair, which were found to
contain a total of 39 birds, some of which had already died from being
confined in small plastic tubes inside the pouches.
According to records filed in the case, Ruiz had been intercepted on three
prior occasions in the Bahamas, attempting to smuggle wildlife into the
United States aboard planes to Miami.
According to statements made in court and the Indictment, Ruiz also
completed a Customs Service Declaration Form on which she falsely claimed,
in response to a specific question thereon, that she was not carrying any
animals or wildlife into the United States.
Under federal law, birds being imported to the United States must be placed
in a licensed quarantine facility before they can be released into the
country. The purpose of the quarantine regulations is, in part, to protect
both commercial and wild species of avians in the United States from
possible exposure to diseases such as Newcastle’s and other maladies
against which they would have no natural immunity.
Sentencing before Judge Gold has been set for October 18, 2005 at 4:30 p.m.
in Miami. Ruiz faces a potential prison sentence of up to five years on
each of the two Counts of conviction and a possible fine of up to $250,000
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the
Fish & Wildlife Service, Investigators of the Department of Agriculture,
and the Inspectors with Department of Homeland Security, Customs And Border
Protection. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States
Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald.