News and Press Releases

Successful conclusion of operation rolling thunder

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 11, 2013
Contact: Ace Crawford
605-343-2913 ext. 2101

United States Attorney Michael W. Cotter of the District of Montana, and United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson of the District of South Dakota announced the results of Operation Rolling Thunder, a two-year covert investigation focusing on unlawful trafficking in federally-protected migratory birds, primarily bald and golden eagles. The operation was conducted by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from March 2008 through February 2011 in Montana and South Dakota.

The investigation documented 43 transactions of protected migratory birds, primarily bald and golden eagles, in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act. The unlawful transactions include the purchase of multiple whole carcass bald and golden eagles in interstate commerce using the United States Postal Service and wire transfers of funds to further the transactions. In total, the operation was able to purchase feathers, other bird parts (wings, claws), and complete migratory birds, which involved a minimum of 80 eagles and 30 hawks.

In response to the successful prosecutions in Operation Rolling Thunder, U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter said, “I have to commend the investigators with the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Smith for his excellent work in this case. Investigations and prosecutions, like Operation Rolling Thunder, of those that kill our protected species for their own gain are vital to ensuring the sustainability of the majestic raptors of our country.”

U.S. Attorney Brendan V. Johnson added, “I want to recognize and thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators for their diligent efforts in this Operation, and Assistant U. S. Attorneys Eric Kelderman and Tim Maher for their vigorous prosecution of those that have violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Department of Justice respects the appropriate use of bird parts for cultural and religious purposes, but the success of Operation Rolling Thunder demonstrates that once that line is crossed, we will strongly enforce federal wildlife laws that preserve natural resources.”

“This investigation documented the unlawful killing and commercialization of eagles and hawks, an unlawful practice that in certain areas of our country is a significant threat to species that are a vital part of our natural heritage,” said Ed Grace, Deputy Chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We hope the penalties in these cases serve as a deterrent to those engaged in this practice, and urge the public to help us put an end to it.”

On October 12, 2012, the Department of Justice announced a policy addressing the ability of members of federally recognized Indian tribes to possess or use eagle feathers, an issue of great cultural significance to many tribes and their members. The Attorney General's memorandum is the first formal policy statement adopted by the Justice Department on this issue. It clarifies and expands on longstanding Department practice, consistent with the Department of the Interior's 35-year old Morton Policy, of not prosecuting tribal members for possessing or using eagle feathers and other protected bird parts.

Federal wildlife laws such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act generally criminalize the killing of eagles and other migratory birds and the possession or commercialization of the feathers and other parts of such birds. These important laws are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and help ensure that eagle and other bird populations remain healthy and sustainable.

Many Indian tribes and tribal members have historically used, and today continue to use federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts for their tribal cultural and religious expression. Federal wildlife laws recognize the importance of accommodating tribal spiritual needs by allowing exceptions for the religious purposes of Indian tribes. Eagle feathers are made available to tribal members every year from the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Eagle Repository.{www.fws.gov/le/national-eagle-repository.html}

For more information on the Department’s Eagle Feathers Policy, visit www.justice.gov/tribal/feathers-fs.htm

Five defendants were indicted in South Dakota, and seven were indicted in Montana. Following is a summary of the cases:

SOUTH DAKOTA DEFENDANTS:

1. Stanley LITTLEBOY. On January 5, 2012, Stanley LITTLEBOY appeared before United States District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken and was sentenced on two counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. LITTLEBOY was sentenced to the following: • Five (5) months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • Five (5) months in Community Confinement • One (1) year of Supervised Release • $125.00 payment of Special Assessment Fee

2. Shane REDHAWK. On January 18, 2012, Shane REDHAWK appeared before United States District Court Judge Roberto A. Lange and was sentenced on two counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. REDHAWK was sentenced to the following: • One (1) month in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • Five (5) months in Home Confinement • One (1) year of Supervised Release • 100 hours of Community Service • $125.00 payment of Special Assessment Fee

3. Noella REDHAWK. On January 18, 2012, Noella REDHAWK appeared before United States District Court Judge Roberto A. Lange and was sentenced on one count of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. REDHAWK was sentenced to the following: • Six (6) months in Home Confinement • One (1) year of Probation • 50 hours of Community Service • $25.00 payment of Special Assessment Fee

4. Tilden REDDEST. On February 24, 2012, Tilden REDDEST appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken and was sentenced on two counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. REDDEST was sentenced to the following: • Fifty-two (52) consecutive weekends in custody. To be served at the Pennington County Jail, Rapid City, South Dakota • Five (5) years of Probation • 400 hours of Community Service • $125 payment of Special Assessment Fee

MONTANA/SOUTH DAKOTA JOINT DEFENDANT:

5. Ernie L. STEWART. On January 11, 2012, Ernie L. STEWART appeared before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Viken and pled guilty to one (1) count of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Later, Stewart’s case was transferred from the District of South Dakota to the District of Montana for sentencing, because Stewart had related charges pending in that District. On May 9, 2012, Ernie L. STEWART appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Jack D. Shanstrom and was sentenced on three (3) counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. STEWART was sentenced to the following for charges in Montana and South Dakota: • Twelve (12) months and one (1) day in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • One (1) year of Supervised Release • Revocation of hunting and fishing privileges • $225 payment of Special Assessment Fee

MONTANA DEFENDANTS:

6. Melody GOODSTRIKER. On January 7, 2012, Melody GOODSTRIKER, per a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, forfeited $500.00 in collateral to the Central Violations Bureau for a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

7. Harvey HUGS. On January 27, 2012, Harvey HUGS appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby and was sentenced on one count of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. HUGS was sentenced to the following: • Six (6) months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • One (1) year of Supervised Release • $25.00 payment of Special Assessment Fee

8. Marc LITTLE LIGHT. On March 8, 2012, Marc LITTLE LIGHT appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby and was sentenced on one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. LITTLE LIGHT was sentenced to the following: • One (1) year of Probation • $2,000.00 payment of Fine • $10.00 payment of Special Assessment Fee

9. William E. HUGS Jr. On May 2, 2012, William E. HUGS Jr. appeared before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Richard F. Cebull and was sentenced on five (5) counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. HUGS Jr., was sentenced to the following: • Time served in custody (Jan 9, 2012 through May 2, 2012) • Three (3) years of Supervised Release • Payment of $500.00 Special Assessment Fee

10. Gilbert G. WALKS Jr. On May 4, 2012, Gilbert G. WALKS Jr. appeared before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Richard F. Cebull and was sentenced on four (4) counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. WALKS Jr., was sentenced to the following: • Twenty-four (24) months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • One (1) year of Supervised Release • 100 hours of Community Service • Payment of $400.00 Special Assessment Fee

11. William E. HUGS Sr. On June 13, 2012, William E. HUGS Sr. appeared before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Richard F. Cebull and was sentenced on one (1) count of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. HUGS Sr., was sentenced to the following: • Eighteen (18) months in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons • Three (3) years of Supervised Release • Payment of $500.00 Special Assessment Fee

Law enforcement is essential to virtually every aspect of wildlife conservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement contributes to Service efforts to manage ecosystems, save endangered species, conserve migratory birds, preserve wildlife habitat, restore fisheries, combat invasive species, and promote international wildlife conservation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement today focuses on potentially devastating threats to wildlife resources -- illegal trade, unlawful commercial exploitation, habitat destruction, and environmental contaminants. The Office of Law Enforcement investigates wildlife crimes, regulates wildlife trade, helps Americans understand and obey wildlife protections laws, and works in partnership with international, state, and tribal counterparts to conserve wildlife resources.

When fully staffed, the Office of Law Enforcement includes 261 special agents and some 140 wildlife inspectors.

 

 

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