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Long IslandCrime

Thomas Kapusta pleads guilty to killing federally protected hawks

A Westbury man who races pigeons pleaded guilty Wednesday to trapping and killing federally protected hawks that he viewed as a threat to his birds, said federal prosecutors and wildlife officials.

Thomas Kapusta, 63, could get up to 30 months in prison and a fine of up to $75,000 at his May 13 sentencing on one count of conspiracy to take, capture and kill red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks and on four counts of taking, capturing and killing those hawks.

At his plea in a Hartford federal court, Kapusta recounted how he and another racing pigeon enthusiast kept a large number of the birds in a coop they built in Stamford, said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, and Honora Gordon, a special agent in charge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Their pigeons were let out regularly so they could exercise, and the two pigeon afficionados saw the hawks, who eat such birds as part of their natural diet, as a threat, federal prosecutors said.

Using traps designed to capture birds of prey, the two “systematically” trapped the hawks, which are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and shot them in the traps, officials said.

Live pigeons were put in a separate compartment of the trap as bait for the raptors, according to the complaint. Kapusta used an air rifle, and at times, the birds of prey had to be shot several times before they died, said the court papers, which listed several additional dates in which the raptors were captured.

Kapusta directed his fellow pigeon enthusiast to say the trap was a “breeding cage” for pigeons if anyone asked, including law enforcement, authorities said.

He pleaded guilty to killing and disposing of the birds of prey last year on Sept. 2 and 8, and Oct. 14 and 21, authorities said.

He declined to comment when reached Wednesday night.

The red-tailed hawk is the most common type of North American hawk and its scream is so dramatic that Hollywood uses it as the voice of other raptors, the federal wildlife service said.

Cooper’s hawks range throughout the United States, but the breed’s numbers have fallen over the decades due to pesticides, the Audubon Society said.

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