April 14, 2011
Husband and Wife Sentenced for Selling Bald and Golden Eagles
Thomas Rice, First Assistant U.S. Attorney, (509) 353-2767
Yakima - Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Ricky S. Wahchumwah, age 39, and his wife, Victoria M. Jim, age 40, both of Granger, Washington, were sentenced yesterday for conspiring to sell bald and golden eagle parts in violation of federal law.
In September 2010, a jury found Ricky Wahchumwah, a Yakama tribal member, guilty of conspiracy, three counts of selling or offering to sell eagle parts and one count of selling wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act. Victoria Jim, also a Yakama tribal member, was found guilty of conspiracy, two counts of selling or offering to sell eagle parts and one count of acquiring wildlife in violation of the Lacey Act. Ricky Wahchumwah was ordered to serve one month in jail, three months of home confinement, followed by two years of court supervision. He was ordered to pay a $425 penalty. Victoria Jim was ordered to serve two weeks in jail, three month home confinement, followed by two years court supervision. She was ordered to pay a $325 penalty. Additionally, the illegally possessed parts were forfeited to the United States along with several firearms and a Suburban automobile.
The evidence at trial showed that Ricky Wahchumwah and Victoria Jim had been illegally acquiring bald and golden eagle parts since at least April 2008 and had been offering them for sale. An undercover Fish and Wildlife agent purchased golden eagle parts from them in April 2008, May 2008, and October 2008. During a search of their home in March 2009, wildlife agents seized four eagle carcasses with their wings and tail bases removed, at least 60 eagle wings, 37 eagle tail bases, 90 individual eagle feet with talons, over 600 loose wing feathers, 34 complete sets of tail feathers, and three containers of eagle body feathers and eagle plumes.
In a related case, in July 2010, Alfred L. Hawk Jr., age 23, and William R. Wahsise, age 23, both of White Swan, Washington, pleaded guilty to killing bald eagles and conspiring to take and sell bald and golden eagle parts in violation of federal law. Alfred L. Hawk, Jr. pleaded guilty to three felony charges and one misdemeanor, while William R. Wahsise pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor. In December 2010, Alfred L. Hawk and William R.Wahsise were both sentenced to six months in jail followed by two years of court supervision. As well, each of them forfeited the eagle parts they illegally possessed.
According to court documents, Alfred L. Hawk, Jr. and William R. Wahsise, both Yakama tribal members, hunted and killed eagles by baiting them with wild horses that were killed to attract the eagles. In March 2009, wildlife agents seized 21 golden eagle tails, 30 golden eagle wings, 31 bald eagle tails, two bald eagle wings from Alfred L. Hawk, Jr.'s residence and approximately five golden eagle tails, 22 golden eagle wings, and assorted feathers from golden eagles and bald eagles from William R. Wahsise's residence.
Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, "The number of eagles lost in these cases is disturbing. Non-Native Americans cannot possess eagle feathers and Native Americans can only acquire eagle feathers lawfully through the National Eagle Repository. No one can hunt or sell eagles."
Eagles and other protected migratory birds are viewed as sacred in many Native American cultures, and the feathers of the birds are central to religious and spiritual Native American customs. By law, enrolled members of federally-recognized Native American tribes are entitled to obtain permits to possess eagle parts for religious purposes but federal law strictly prohibits selling eagle parts under any circumstances. The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository, which collects eagles that die naturally or by accident, to supply enrolled members of federally recognized tribes with eagle parts for religious use. The Service has worked to increase the number of salvaged eagles sent to the Repository and make it easier to send birds to the facility by providing shipping materials at no charge. The Repository obtains eagles from state and federal agencies as well as zoos.
The penalty for a first time violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and the second or subsequent conviction is up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The penalty for the Lacey Act violation and for conspiring to sell bald and golden eagle parts is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with the assistance of state and tribal wildlife authorities. This case was prosecuted by Tim Ohms and Tyler Tornabene, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.