ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis County man appeared in federal court on Tuesday and admitted to smuggling wild animals.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri said Michael Amato, 68, and associates smuggled regulated wildlife into the country from Malta, England, Germany, and elsewhere. They did so without declaring said wildlife and without obtaining the proper permits.

Amato told the court that between February 2018 and September 2020, he smuggled 67 different birds into the United States. Some of the birds are listed as threatened with extinction.

According to court documents, Amato instructed his comrades abroad how to fill out paperwork in order to avoid detection from federal regulators.

Amato pleaded guilty to fraudulently importing protected wildlife. As part of his plea deal, he’s agreed to forfeit more than six dozen taxidermy bird mounts that were seized from his home in September 2021, and to surrender additional bird mounts in his possession like owls, buzzards, hawks, eagles, harriers, and cranes.

“This person thought let’s bring in stuffed birds. Really, what fun is that?” said Roger Holloway, executive director for the World Bird Sanctuary. “We want people to come here and look at the live birds and learn about the live birds in the world and how important they are.”

A U.S. District Court judge has scheduled Amato for sentencing on Aug. 8. Both the defense and federal prosecutors have agreed to recommend three years of probation and a $5,000 donation to the World Bird Sanctuary.

“That will be very helpful. It’s nice for us to get money. We’re nonprofit, we need it to feed our birds,” Holloway said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case. Dianna Collins, assistant US attorney, is prosecuting the case.

“It surprised me that it was right here in St. Louis. Typically, we hear about these type of things, confiscation in other parts of the world,” Holloway said. “Where parts of animals and whole carcasses are revered for bringing luck or enhancing your masculinity, or virtuality, or energy or whatever, when it’s just really all a bunch of witchcraft.”