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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of South Dakota

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 2, 2018

PROJECT DAKOTA FLYER SENTENCES ANNOUNCED

Twelve Men, Five Women, and Two Pawn Shops Sentenced for Lacey Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act Violations

United States Attorney Ron Parsons announced that 19 defendants from Project Dakota Flyer – one of the largest wildlife trafficking investigations in the Midwest in recent history – have been sentenced.

Nine men from South Dakota, five women from South Dakota, one man from North Dakota, one man from Iowa, one man from Idaho, and two pawn shops in South Dakota, convicted of various Lacey Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act violations, have been sentenced in United States District Court by Chief Judge Jeffrey L. Viken, U.S. District Judge Roberto A. Lange, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno, U.S. Magistrate Judge William D. Gerdes, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta L. Wollmann.

U.S. Attorney Parsons praised the sentences: “This investigation has demonstrated the breadth of the illegal black market for eagle and other migratory bird parts.  It is our goal to completely eliminate the unauthorized killing and selling of bald eagles, golden eagles, and other protected species.  Importantly, nothing in this investigation was done to infringe upon traditional Native American use of eagle parts for cultural or spiritual purposes.  We are very sensitive to the Native American culture and religious practices that use and honor the eagle, and we want them to be able to continue to do that in a lawful and culturally appropriate manner.”

These convictions stem from incidents beginning in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated an undercover operation, Project Dakota Flyer, focusing on the unlawful trafficking of protected migratory birds, primarily bald and golden eagles.  The operation utilized undercover techniques to purchase eagle and other protected bird parts from 51 suspects over a 19-month period.  The purchases occurred in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, and in some cases over the internet.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects our nation’s wildlife here and abroad,” said Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We initiated Operation Project Dakota Flyer to stop the unlawful trafficking in protected migratory birds with a particular emphasis in bald and golden eagles.  The work of our special agents and forensic scientists revealed over 35 species of birds, from every continent except Antarctica, were trafficked.  This operation, which began in America’s heartland, illustrates how wildlife trafficking is a global crisis."

Sheldon Tree Top, age 44, of Mandan, ND, was sentenced on April 4, 2018, by Judge Lange to six months in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $5,000, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $125.  Tree Top was indicted by a federal grand jury on August 22, 2017, and pled guilty on December 29, 2017, to two violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Jorge Pena, age 45, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was sentenced on July 16, 2018, by Chief Judge Viken to five months of federal prison on each count, to run concurrently, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $20,000, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $125.  Pena was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017,  and pled guilty on March 23, 2018, to violations of the Lacey Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Aaron David West, Jr., age 34, of Eagle Butte, SD, was sentenced on June 11, 2018, by Judge Lange to two months in federal prison, six months of home confinement, one year of supervised release, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $31,750 jointly with co-defendant Aaron David West, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $125.  West was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 21, 2018, to violations of the Bald and Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Aiding and Abetting.

Aaron David West, age 63, of Eagle Butte, SD, was sentenced on June 11, 2018, by Judge Lange to one year of probation, which includes six months of home confinement, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $31,750 jointly with co-defendant Aaron David West, Jr., and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  West was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 21, 2018, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and Aiding and Abetting.

Benjamin Iron Hawk, age 45, of Mission, SD, was sentenced on June 11, 2018, by Judge Lange to two months in federal prison, six months of home confinement, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $28,750 joint and several with co-defendant Valencia Neck, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $100.  Iron Hawk was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 21, 2018, to a violation of the Lacey Act.

Valencia Neck, age 39, of Mission, SD, was sentenced on June 11, 2018, by Judge Lange to one year or probation, which includes six months of home confinement, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $28,750 joint and several with co-defendant Benjamin Iron Hawk, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  Neck was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 21, 2018, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Christopher Pomani, age 38, of Chamberlain, SD, was sentenced on April 5, 2018, by Judge Moreno to two years of probation, a fine in the amount of $500, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  Pomani was indicted by a federal grand jury on August 22, 2017 and pled guilty on December 5, 2017, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Aiding and Abetting.

Arvella Pomani, age 36, of Box Elder, SD, was sentenced on July 17, 2018, by Judge Moreno to one year of probation, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $16,800, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  Pomani was indicted by a federal grand jury on August 22, 2017, and pled guilty on July 17, 2018, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Aiding and Abetting.

Chet Christensen, d/b/a Chet’s Place, age 67, of Tuthill, SD, was sentenced on March 28, 2018, by Judge Moreno to one day of probation, a fine in the amount of $3,000, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $3,500, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  Christensen was indicted by a federal grand jury on April 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 28, 2018, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Elray Rosaaen, d/b/a Buffalo Gap Trading Post, age 72, of Buffalo Gap, SD, was sentenced on March 23, 2018, by Judge Wollmann to a fine in the amount of $3,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Rosaeen was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 12, 2017, to a one count Indictment of Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Manuel Lieras, age 67, of Pocatello, Idaho, was sentenced on March 28, 2018, by Judge Gerdes to a fine in the amount of $5,000, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $900, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Lieras was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 28, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Steven Marin, d/b/a Mobridge Pawn, age 47, of Selby, SD, was sentenced on March 28, 2018, by Judge Moreno to a fine in the amount of $3,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Marin was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on March 28, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Jeffrey Jensen, d/b/a Jerry’s Pawn Shop, age 53, of Mobridge, SD, was sentenced on April 11, 2018, by Judge Moreno to a fine in the amount of $3,000, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $1,750, joint and several with co-defendant Amanda Silbernagel, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Jensen was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on April 11, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Amanda Silbernagel, d/b/a Jerry’s Pawn Shop, age 30, of Mobridge, SD, was sentenced on April 11, 2018, by Judge Moreno to a fine in the amount of $1,000, restitution to the National Wildlife Foundation in the amount of $1,750, joint and several with co-defendant Jeffrey Jensen, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Silbernagel was indicted by a federal grand jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on April 11, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Wanda Dupris, age 45, of Eagle Butte, SD, was sentenced on April 24, 2018, by Judge Moreno to a fine in the amount of $1,000, and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $25.  Dupris was indicted by a federal grand jury on August 22, 2017, and pled guilty on April 24, 2018, to a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Fair Deal Pawn, a business in Box Elder, SD, was sentenced on May 29, 2018, by Judge Wollmann, to a fine in the amount of $3,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Fair Deal Pawn was indicted by a federal grand Jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on May 29, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Kenneth Foster, d/b/a Rapid Pawn, of Box Elder, SD, was sentenced on July 13, 2018, by Judge Wollmann, to a fine in the amount of $3,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10. Foster was indicted by a federal grand Jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on July 13, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Pawn With Us, a business in Rapid City, SD, was sentenced on June 1, 2018, by Judge Wollmann, to a fine in the amount of $3,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Pawn With Us was indicted by a federal grand Jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on June 1, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Melinda Sue Relf, a/k/a Melinda Sue Red Feather, age 37, of Rapid City, SD, was sentenced on July 27, 2018, by Judge Wollmann, to a fine in the amount of $1,000 and a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $10.  Relf was indicted by a federal grand Jury on September 12, 2017, and pled guilty on July 27, 2018, to a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Restitution for the loss of the eagles and other migratory birds was sought by the United States in these cases where it could be proved that a deceased bird was trafficked as part of the illegal activity.  Following extensive expert testimony, the Courts adopted a restitution value for immature eagles at $5,000 and adult eagles at $10,000. 

These cases were investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Kelderman and Meghan N. Dilges prosecuted the cases.  

Topic(s): 
Wildlife
Component(s): 
Updated August 2, 2018