Eagle Smuggler Will Spend Two Years on Ice

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2002 (ENS) - A Canadian man has been sentenced to 24 months in prison for paying people to shoot eagles, and selling eagle parts to Native American tribes.

Leonard Fridall Terry Antoine of Duncan, British Columbia was convicted of four violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and one count of wildlife smuggling by a federal jury in Seattle. In addition to two years in jail, Antoine was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, and to pay a total of $147,000 in restitution - $3,000 for each of the 49 bald eagles involved.

golden eagle

Golden eagles are most common in the western regions of North America (Photo courtesy Grandfather Mountain)
Antoine, a member of the Cowichan tribe, claimed that he was distributing eagle parts to Native Americans in the U.S. for use in religious ceremonies. That defense was specifically rejected by the jury last October, in large part because Antoine was illegally receiving payment for these parts.

At sentencing, the court noted the case had nothing to do with the defendant's right to exercise religion, but rather had to do with Antoine paying other people to kill eagles and making money from selling eagle parts. The court also noted that the defendant's conduct warranted the highest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines.

"It is absolutely right that this defendant serve time for such an outright violation of our nation's environmental laws," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice's environmental and natural resources division. "The outcome will serve as a deterrent to others who would harm protected species."

During 1997 and 1998, Antoine bought eagles from at least three individuals on Vancouver Island, Canada. After paying between $20 and $50 per eagle, Antoine would butcher the eagles, remove their wings, tails, feet and feathers, and smuggle the parts into the U.S. for sale to willing buyers.

A set of wing feathers would sell for at least $150, tail feathers for at least $250, and other feathers and bones for various amounts, court testimony shows.


Bald eagle feathers are used in some Native American ceremonies (Photo by Robert Fields, courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
The case began with an investigation by the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, Lands and Parks and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A search warrant of Antoine's home uncovered bird parts later determined to have come from 124 bald eagles and a golden eagle, among other protected birds.

Canadian law enforcement officers learned that Antoine had a self storage locker in Washington state. A search by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found parts from a minimum of 29 additional bald eagles and another golden eagle.

Evidence was found that Antoine smuggled a substantial number of other bald eagles into the U.S. in June 1998, and sold their parts in Washington, Montana and Arizona.

Eagle parts and feathers play an important role in the traditional religion of Native American people throughout Canada and the United States, including the Cowichan band of the Coast Salish, of which Antoine is a member. Eagle parts and feathers may be legally possessed for traditional religious and cultural purposes by First Nations people within Canada, but may not be sold.

U.S. and Canada have both developed programs for distributing eagles that are found dead to native people for traditional uses. Antoine had not applied for, nor obtained, any federal permits.