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16 more indicted for trafficking in eagle, migratory bird feathers and parts

RAPID CITY, S.D.— Sixteen more people from Nebraska to North Dakota have been indicted for the illegal trafficking of eagle and endangered migratory bird feathers and parts in South Dakota.

The men and women, many listed along with the name of pawn shops they were associated with across western and central South Dakota, are in addition to the 15 individuals who were indicted earlier this year as a result of a two-year undercover operation dubbed Project Dakota Flyer.

The indictments, unsealed Friday, Sept. 29, in Rapid City, this time included the arrests of 13 people or pawn shops from South Dakota and one person each from North Dakota, Nebraska and Idaho.

Ages of those indicted ranged from 20 to 74.

The North Dakotan arrested was Sheldon Tree Top, 43, of Mandan, charged with violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Lacey Act.

From Nebraska, Jason Brodersen, 46, of Omaha was indicted for eagle protection violations, and from Idaho, Manuel Lieras, 39, of Pocatello was charged with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Also indicted for violating eagle protection laws from South Dakota were Christopher Pomani, 37, of Chamberlain, Michael Pomani, 20, of Fort Thompson, Arvella Pomani, 35, of Pierre, Wanda Dupris, 44, of Eagle Butte, and Larry Belitz, 74, of Hot Springs.

An individual indicted for violating the migratory bird act from South Dakota was Melinda Sue Relf, 37, of Pine Ridge.

Indicted under their name as well as their South Dakota business name for migratory bird violations were Kenneth Foster, 28, of Rapid Pawn in Rapid City, Elray Rosaaen, 72, of Buffalo Gap Trading Post in Buffalo Gap, Jeffrey Alan Jensen, 53, of Jerry's Pawn Shop in Mobridge, Amanda Silbernagel, 30, of Jerry's Pawn Shop in Mobridge, and Steven Ray Marin, 46, of Mobridge Pawn in Mobridge.

Two indictments listed businesses only. They were Pawn With Us of Rapid City and Fair Deal Pawn of Rapid City.

In the indictments unsealed Friday and last spring, documents said a confidential informant purchased thousands of dollars worth of protected eagle parts, as well those from other migratory birds in danger, from the individuals or businesses.

The informant with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the purchases starting in 2014 and lasting into 2016

Under federal law, only American Indians in federally recognized tribes are allowed to own eagle feathers for use in their religious and cultural ceremonies.

The only legal supplier, however, is the federal government, which operates an eagle cool-storage facility called the National Eagle Repository in a suburb of Denver.

The repository operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can't keep up with demand from tribes, however. About 2,000 eagles each year are brought to the repository by federal wildlife agents or from other sources. Most of the eagles are victims of road traffic accidents, power lines or poachers.

In the earlier cases, the 15 indicted were from South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa, and mostly involved a group of three tribal members who all knew each other and a Rapid City family. The family indicted was the "Buffalo Dreamers," a father and two sons who perform Native American dances at public venues such as Crazy Horse Monument and Custer State Park in the Black Hills.

Initial appearances in federal court for those newly indicted this week will be in Pierre on Oct. 6, in Rapid City on Oct. 11 and in Aberdeen on Oct. 12.

Assistant U.S. attorneys for South Dakota Meghan Dilges and Eric Kelderman are prosecuting the cases.