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Dec. 19, 2012

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Victoria Jury Convicts Missouri City Man of Illegal Possession of Bald Eagle

VICTORIA, Texas - Sam Mathew, 53, of Missouri City, has been convicted of illegally possessing a bald eagle, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Mathew was indicted in May of this year for one count of violating The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The jury returned its verdict late yesterday after two days of trial and approximately an hour of deliberations.

During trial, the government presented evidence and testimony that indicated Mathew intended to catch a juvenile bald eagle for the purpose of training it in falconry. Evidence indicated there was an active bald eagle nest located on Mathew’s property and he had already researched how to capture it.

Mathew testified in his defense and claimed the bird was out of its nest and on a tree limb and had instructed two ranch hands to remove it. However, testimony indicated the bird was actually still in its nest when they were about to capture it. The eagle apparently got scared and fell out of the tree at that time and Mathew and one of the ranch hands caught it. The MBTA does allow the possession of nongame birds, but only if they are injured, sick or orphaned and if they are immediately transported to be rehabilitated.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials learned of the eagle and that the nest housing it had apparently been disturbed and went to the residence. Upon arrival, they noticed there were fresh tire tracks around the tree and several broken branches as well as a set of tree climbing gear with ropes.

Mathew claimed he thought the bird was injured and was rescuing it to take it to a rehabilitator. The jury disagreed and found him guilty as charged.

The MBTA provides protection for migratory birds. The MBTA prohibits to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any par, nest, or egg of any such bird. The bald eagle is a non-game migratory bird as defined in Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 10.13.

Mathew was permitted to remain on bond pending his sentencing hearing to be held in February 2013. At that time, he faces up to six months in federal prison and a maximum $15,000 fine. 

The case was investigated by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Hugo R. Martinez and Patti Hubert Booth.