Montana man convicted of killing eagles is sentenced to 3 years in prison for related gun violations

Jan 24, 2024, 3:52 PM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana felon previously convicted of killing eagles to sell their parts on the black market was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday for related gun violations.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in Billings sentenced Harvey Hugs, 60, after he pleaded guilty in September to being a felon in possession of firearms. Prosecutors said the Hardin, Montana, man used the guns to shoot federally protected eagles over more than a year and then sold the birds’ parts to an informant for profit.

A 2021 search of Hugs’ home and vehicles found eagle parts, two rifles and ammunition, according to court documents. Investigators recovered parts of 21 different eagles, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“While it is unknown how many eagles Hugs took by shooting or trapping, the location, type, and amount of evidence reflect his criminal enterprise was expansive and protracted,” prosecutors wrote in recommending a prison sentence.

Hugs was sentenced last June in Rapid City, South Dakota, to three years in federal prison after being convicted by a jury for trafficking golden eagle feathers, wings and tails in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The two sentences will be served concurrently, according to court documents. Hugs public defender in the Montana case, attorney Edward Werner, did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.

Hugs has an extensive criminal record including convictions for involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of police and criminal trespassing. In 2012, he was sentenced in federal court in Montana to six months in custody for coordinating the illegal purchase of eagle feathers, tails and wings and two hawk tails, court documents show.

His latest prison sentence comes weeks after two men were indicted in Montana over another alleged eagle-killing scheme that authorities said resulted in the deaths about 3,600 birds, including golden and bald eagles on and around the Flathead Indian Reservation.

One of the defendants in that case, Simon Paul, is being sought by authorities after he failed to show up for a January 8 initial court appearance, prompting a judge to issue an arrest warrant.

It’s illegal to possess, use, or sell eagles or their parts in the U.S., though there are exceptions for cultural institutions and Native Americans using them in religious ceremonies. Federal officials operate a clearinghouse that makes eagle feathers and other parts available to tribal members, authorized zoos and museums.

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Montana man convicted of killing eagles is sentenced to 3 years in prison for related gun violations