Man pleads guilty to illegally selling endangered birds

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SAN DIEGO — A Vista man pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally selling three endangered birds and also admitted selling birds and reptiles throughout the United States via the Internet.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson said Christopher Estep offered to sell two Philippine Buff Banded Rails on the website http://www.softbillsforsale.com on March 13, 2012.

On March 22, 2013, Estep informed an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent that he had a half-dozen Buff Banded Rails available for sale. When the agent asked about the birds at a later date, Estep said that all six had been purchased.

The Philippine Buff Banded Rail is regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the possession and sale of any migratory bird without a permit.

On Oct. 31, 2013, Estep advertised on the Internet that he had a pair of Bali Myna birds for sale, and requested $2,300 for the pair, the prosecutor said.

The next week, Estep told the same undercover agent that he would sell him the pair for only $2,100 because one of the Myna birds was missing an eye. After some additional haggling, Estep agreed to a bulk price if the agent purchased both Myna birds and a Philippine Buff Banded Rail, prosecutors said.

The Bali Myna can also be sold only with a permit as it is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

After receiving payment for the three protected birds, Estep delivered them to the undercover agent in Temecula, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In his plea, Estep acknowledged that he had no permits that would allow him to purchase or sell endangered species or migratory birds and that based on his experience as a commercial distributor of birds and reptiles he should have known that they were obtained in some illegal manner.

Magistrate Judge Nita Stormes sentenced Estep to a year on probation, levied a $1,000 fine and ordered him to make restitution of $1,800 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and forfeit the birds he sold to the undercover agent.

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