South Dakota man gets probation in eagle trafficking case

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota man accused in a widespread case involving the illegal trafficking of eagles and other protected birds has been sentenced to five years of probation and order to pay thousands of dollars to a wildlife group.

Troy Fairbanks, 57, of Rapid City, was among 30 people and pawn shops indicted in 2017 as part of a two-year federal investigation, dubbed Project Dakota Flyer, into the black market trade of eagle carcasses, eagle parts and feathers. He pleaded guilty in December to wildlife trafficking conspiracy.

Prosecutors say they found more than 100 eagle carcasses or eagle parts in Fairbanks' home.

Eagle heads or wings can fetch hundreds of dollars, though sellers sometimes exchange the eagle parts for other animal parts, such as bear claws, buffalo horn caps or animal hides. The eagle parts are often used in Native American-style handicrafts.

Undercover investigators say the suspects purchased protected bird parts from suspects in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Iowa.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken last week ordered Fairbanks to pay nearly $16,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, on top of a $10,000 fine he has already paid, the Rapid City Journal reported.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges of breaking the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, and seven counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.