South Dakota

15 charged in South Dakota 'chop shop' for eagles, officials say

The busted operation ensnared at least 100 eagles, investigators said.

The busted operation ensnared at least 100 eagles, investigators said.  (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

A "chop shop" for eagles?

It may sound strange, but that's what federal authorities in South Dakota on Monday said was unfolding at an organization that performs Native American dance programs in Rapid City.

Fifteen people have been indicted for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds after a two-year undercover operation potentially involving hundreds of birds.

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Officials expect "significant" additional federal charges in the case, which focused on trafficking of eagles and eagle parts such as feathers for profit, U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler said. The case involves more than 100 eagles, a number that could climb as high as 250.

Seiler described one operation as basically a "chop shop for eagles" in which eagle feathers were stuffed into garbage bags. He said it was clear that it was a moneymaking operation and that various part of the eagle were treated as merchandise.

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"There was no cultural sensitivity. There was no spirituality," Seiler said. "There was no tradition in the manner in which these defendants handled these birds."

Three men charged in the case are involved with Buffalo Dreamers. Owner Troy Fairbanks has been charged with conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking and violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act.

Fairbanks, 54, allegedly sold or traded eagle parts to an informant including a golden eagle head for $250, a trade involving about $5,400 of legal merchandise for eagle parts and selling two sets of eagle wings for $900.

It wasn't immediately clear if Fairbanks has an attorney. A telephone number for Buffalo Dreamers went directly to voicemail. The defendants are set to appear in court in May, SDPB Radio reported.

Those accused in the case include people from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Authorities didn't immediately disclose how much the defendants are thought to have profited in the case, and Seiler said some of the 15 defendants are unconnected to each other.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.