Yakima – James A. McDevitt, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Ricky S. Wahchumwah, age 38, and his wife, Victoria M. Jim, age 39, both of Granger, Washington, were found guilty by a jury of conspiring to sell bald and golden eagle parts in violation of federal law.
The jury trial, which began September 13, concluded September 23. The jury found Ricky Wahchumwah, a Yakama tribal member, guilty of conspiracy, three counts of selling or offering to sell eagle parts and one count of selling wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act. Victoria Jim, also a Yakama tribal member, was found guilty of conspiracy, two counts of selling or offering to sell eagle parts and one count of acquiring wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act.
The evidence at trial showed that Ricky Wahchumwah and Victoria Jim had been illegally acquiring bald and golden eagle parts since at least April 2008 and had been offering them for sale. An undercover Fish and Wildlife agent purchased golden eagle parts from them in April 2008, May 2008, and October 2008. During a search of their home in March 2009, wildlife agents seized four eagle carcasses with their wings and tail bases removed, at least 60 eagle wings, 37 eagle tail bases, approximately 89 eagle feet with talons, at least 728 loose wing feathers, 32 complete sets of tail feathers, at least 102 loose tail feathers, and three containers of eagle plumes.
In a related case, in July 2010, Alfred L. Hawk Jr., age 23, and William R. Wahsise, age 23, both of White Swan, Washington, pleaded guilty to killing bald eagles and conspiring to take and sell bald and golden eagle parts in violation of federal law. Alfred L. Hawk, Jr. pleaded guilty to three felony charges and one misdemeanor, while William R. Wahsise pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor. Their sentencing hearing is set for October 13, 2010.
According to court documents, Alfred L. Hawk, Jr. and William R. Wahsise, both Yakama tribal members, hunted and killed eagles by baiting them with wild horses that were killed to attract the eagles. In March 2009, wildlife agents seized 21 golden eagle tails, 30 golden eagle wings, 31 bald eagle tails, two bald eagle wings from Alfred L. Hawk, Jr.’s residence and approximately five golden eagle tails, 22 golden eagle wings, and assorted feathers from golden eagles and bald eagles from William R. Wahsise’s residence.
James A. McDevitt, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, “The indiscriminate slaughter of these protected birds is alarming. The black market sale of eagle parts must be stopped and these cases should send a stern warning to anyone who contemplates such criminal activity.”
“The criminal actions of these defendants defile respectful Native American religious and cultural observances and I hope the community will come together in condemning their behavior,” said Paul Chang, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region. “There are legal ways to obtain eagle feathers and parts and we are committed to helping tribal members acquire them through these methods."
Eagles and other protected migratory birds are viewed as sacred in many Native American cultures, and the feathers of the birds are central to religious and spiritual Native American customs. By law, enrolled members of federally-recognized Native American tribes are entitled to obtain permits to possess eagle parts for religious purposes but federal law strictly prohibits selling eagle parts under any circumstances. The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository, which collects eagles that die naturally or by accident, to supply enrolled members of federally recognized tribes with eagle parts for religious use. The Service has worked to increase the number of salvaged eagles sent to the Repository and make it easier to send birds to the facility by providing shipping materials at no charge. The Repository obtains eagles from state and federal agencies as well as zoos.
The penalty for a first time violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and the second or subsequent conviction is up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The penalty for the Lacey Act violation and for conspiring to sell bald and golden eagle parts is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with the assistance of state and tribal wildlife authorities. This case is being prosecuted by Tim Ohms and Tyler Tornabene, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.