South Dakota

Eagle 'chop shop' case offers window into trafficking trade

  • FILE - This Feb. 1, 2016, file photo provided by the Nevada Department of Wildlife shows a Nevada game warden displaying the carcasses and wings of two golden eagles and a hawk seized from an Arizona man accused of killing an eagle and illegally possessing raptor parts at the department's office in Elko. A two-year undercover operation in South Dakota has led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds. The case in federal court in South Dakota offers a rare window into the black market for eagle feathers, parts and handicrafts. (Joe Doucette/Nevada Department of Wildlife via AP, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 1, 2016, file photo provided by the Nevada Department of Wildlife shows a Nevada game warden displaying the carcasses and wings of two golden eagles and a hawk seized from an Arizona man accused of killing an eagle and illegally possessing raptor parts at the department's office in Elko. A two-year undercover operation in South Dakota has led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds. The case in federal court in South Dakota offers a rare window into the black market for eagle feathers, parts and handicrafts. (Joe Doucette/Nevada Department of Wildlife via AP, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this April 24, 2017, file photo, South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler discusses the details of indictments in an eagle trafficking case in Rapid City, S.D. A two-year undercover operation in South Dakota has led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds. The case in federal court in South Dakota offers a rare window into the black market for eagle feathers, parts and handicrafts. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)

    FILE - In this April 24, 2017, file photo, South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler discusses the details of indictments in an eagle trafficking case in Rapid City, S.D. A two-year undercover operation in South Dakota has led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds. The case in federal court in South Dakota offers a rare window into the black market for eagle feathers, parts and handicrafts. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)  (The Associated Press)

A two-year undercover operation that led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds uncovered what one prosecutor called a "chop shop" for eagles.

The case in federal court in South Dakota offers a rare window into the black market for eagle feathers, parts and handicrafts, including one alleged dealer who called himself the "best feather man in the Midwest."

Dan Rolince is U.S. Fish and Wildlife's regional law enforcement chief. He says the illegal trade has been a persistent problem. But he expects the new case to be among the largest his agency has handled as more charges are added.

He says it's difficult to determine the size of the market, but the trade is sufficiently prevalent that investigators made the case quickly.