An interesting question is brewing in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits — whether the administration of the National Eagle Repository (created by the USFWS as a means to create an exception to the Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act for American Indians) is unconstitutional as applied to American Indians.
Thomas J. Hampton, 56, of Tekonsha, Mich., was sentenced today in federal court for illegally selling a Native American lance decorated with more than 30 golden eagle feathers. Previously, Hampton pleaded guilty on July 17, 2007 to a one-count federal felony indictment charging him with the sale of eagle feathers in interstate commerce, in violation of the Lacey Act. Today, U.S. District Court Judge J. P. Stadtmueller sentenced Hampton to two years probation and to pay a fine of $2,500.
Federal law prohibits the sale of eagle feathers regardless of the age of the feathers. Golden eagles, and bald eagles, are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the sale, in interstate commerce, of wildlife that has been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of federal, state, or tribal law.
Hampton operates Hampton Historicals, an antique business based in Tekonsha. Hampton admitted that, in April 2002, he traveled from his home in Michigan to Columbus, Wis., to sell Native American artifacts to an art and antiques collector. Hampton brought several artifacts, including the lance, with him. Hampton sold the lance to the collector for $25,000.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents became aware of Hampton’s crime when, in the spring of 2006, the Wisconsin collector tried to resell the lance for $38,000. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ed Spoon said, “A concerned citizen contacted us. That’s how the Service learned about this illegal attempt to sell the lance.” Agent Spoon said the citizen who reported the attempted sale was motivated by a desire to stop the illegal trade in artifacts decorated with protected migratory bird feathers. Agents subsequently executed a search warrant in Columbus, Wis., where they seized the lance, computer evidence and documents describing the lance’s history.
Further investigation led the agents to Hampton in Michigan. Agent Spoon said the nine-foot long lance, or spear, appears to date back to the late 1700’s. It is believed to be a Spanish lance that passed into Native American ownership in the early 1800’s. The lance was probably possessed by Comanche or Kiowa warriors in the Southern Plains region of the United States.
Agent Spoon said charges are expected to be filed soon against the collector who offered the lance for sale in 2006.
Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Sanders prosecuted the case for the United States Attorneys Office in Milwaukee.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.