Mark Andersen Journal Staff Sep 29, 2017
Federal authorities indicted 16 additional people Friday on charges of killing or trafficking in eagles and other protected birds, bringing to 30 the tally of people nabbed in a South Dakota undercover sting first announced in April.
This latest round includes nine misdemeanor charges, mostly against pawnshops trafficking in lesser volumes.
“This undercover operation and prosecutions continue our commitment to honor the Native people in South Dakota,” said Randy Seiler, U.S. Attorney, District of South Dakota, at a news conference at the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City.
The investigation focused on individuals selling birds for cash and on established businesses trafficking in migratory bird parts, Seiler said. The defendants include three Rapid City pawnshops and three people from out of state. One of those indicted makes replica Native American regalia using protected bird items for sale overseas, Seiler said.
In addition to criminal sentences, prosecutors will seek $10,000 in restitution per eagle that was killed and sold for profit, based on a new cost analysis determining monetary value.
The investigation involved 500 individual bird items, representing 43 species. There was no way to determine how many of the birds were killed in South Dakota. Among them were 92 bald eagles, 143 golden eagles, plus 150 hawks and owls, based on DNA analysis.
The sting revealed the underbelly and breadth of the black market for protected birds, Seiler said. Friday’s announcement closes the original investigation, but other intelligence gathered has been passed on to officials in Western and Southwestern states.
Steve Oberholtzer, special agent in charge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, said similar undercover operations have taken place across the country, but this one is unique in terms of the volume of birds and defendants.
“For some tribal members, eagle feathers are essential to spiritual well-being,” he said. “This was not about spiritual well-being; it was greed.”
Newly identified defendants will make initial appearances next week in Pierre, Rapid City and Aberdeen. They are: Manuel Lieras, 39, Pocatello, Idaho; Jason Brodersen, 46, Omaha, Neb.; Sheldon Tree Top, 43, Mandan, N.D.; Christopher Pomani, 37, Fort Thompson; Arvella Pomani, 35, Pierre; Wanda Dupris, 44, Eagle Butte; Melinda Sue Relf, aka Melinda Red Feather, 37, Pine Ridge; Fair Deal Pawn, Rapid City; Kenneth Foster, doing business as Rapid Pawn, 28, Rapid City; Pawn With Us, Rapid City; Elray Rosaaen DBA Buffalo Gap Trading Post, 72, Buffalo Gap; Jeffrey Alan Jensen DBA Jerry’s Pawn Shop, 53, Mobridge; Amanda Silbernagel DBA Jerry’s Pawn Shop, 46, Mobridge; Steven Ray Marin DBA Mobridge Pawn, 46, Mobridge; and Larry Belitz, 74, Hot Springs.