Feds clip the wings of eagle trafficking ring

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RAPID CITY S.D. (KOTA TV) - A sting operation by the federal government snared 15 people for allegedly trafficking eagles and other protected birds in South Dakota, North Dakota and elsewhere.

The two-year undercover operation dubbed "Project Dakota Flyer" was a joint venture by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Through the investigation they determined that the 15 people were killing hawks, eagles and owls, then selling their parts and feathers on the black market for profit.

A total of nine states and Canada were implicated.

The government used informants, undercover businesses and an internet presence in the sting.

"Through the investigation there was intelligence from several sources in both North and South Dakota that the killing and selling of eagles and other protected bird species was on going,” said Dan Rolince with the U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service. “About 200 individual names came to our attention.”

Searches were done at five of the 15 defendants' homes.

Through DNA testing they were able to confirm that one suspect had possession of 100 eagles.

It is possible that 250 eagles are involved in this case.

Randy Seiler, U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, said it was slaughter.

"These items were treated like dirt,” said Seiler. “They were in Walmart bags, they were in garbage bags, and they were spread out all over the house. They didn't know what they had."

The indicted individuals include:
1. Troy Fairbanks, Rapid City
2. Majestic Fairbanks, Rapid City
3. Troy Fairbanks, Rapid City
4. Alvin Brown, Ethete, Wyo.
5. Michael Primeaux, Parmalee, S.D.
6. Juan Mesteth, Pine Ridge
7. Aaron West, Eagle Butte
8. Aaron West Jr, Eagle Butte
9. Jorge Pena, Vernon, Iowa
10. Valencia Neck, Parmelee
11. Benjamin Hawk, Kyle
12. Chet Christensen, Tuthill, S.D.
13. Ronald Fisher, Kyle
14. Gary Fisher, Gordon, Neb.
15. David Jasper, Box Elder

The defendants will appear in court on May 1 and 4.