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Continued: Federal cases against Minnesota fishing poachers collapse

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 3, 2014 - 7:53 PM

It was a roll­er-coast­er legal jour­ney for Lar­ry Bellefy, a Red Lake band mem­ber and one of the 10 de­fend­ants. Bellefy, who owns a bar in Bagley, Minn., was indicted on a charge of buy­ing poached fish and re­sell­ing it. He pleaded guil­ty July 26.

Af­ter Tun­heim tossed four of the Leech Lake in­dict­ments in No­vem­ber, say­ing they vio­lat­ed In­di­an rights un­der an 1837 trea­ty, Bellefy tried to with­draw his guil­ty plea, but U.S. District Judge Rich­ard Kyle would not al­low it, and a sen­ten­cing date was set. Af­ter pros­ecu­tors re­vealed the legal flaw, Kyle dis­missed Bellefy’s in­dict­ment.

In the state cases, the DNR has some “pre­limi­nary in­for­ma­tion” that 38 charges were brought against 26 in­di­vidu­als in Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, I­tas­ca, Otter Tail, Pen­ning­ton and Polk coun­ties.

Of the 38 charges, 30 re­sul­ted in con­vic­tions, the DNR said. Ken Soring, chief con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer for the DNR, said he be­lieved that none of those con­victed re­ceived jail time. One per­son charged is now de­ceased; one had his charge dis­missed and re­ferred to trib­al court. Some cases in­volved plea agree­ments that in­clud­ed dis­miss­al of some charges and con­vic­tions on oth­ers.

“There were an­oth­er 11 in­di­vidu­als where 27 charges were iden­ti­fied that were not charged be­cause of limi­ta­tions, prosecutorial dis­cre­tion, trib­al ju­ris­dic­tion or the in­di­vid­u­al be­ing de­ceased,” the DNR said.

The sta­tus of cases brought in Red Lake or Leech Lake trib­al courts is not known. Calls to of­fi­cials at both res­er­va­tions were not re­turned.

Let tribe han­dle it?

George Goggleye, chair­man of the Leech Lake trib­al gov­ern­ment from 2004 to 2008, said in a re­cent inter­view: “I didn’t think [the in­dict­ments] were a good i­de­a to be­gin with. The tribe has its own con­ser­va­tion code. The trib­al con­ser­va­tion of­fic­ers should have han­dled this, not the gov­ern­ment.” He said the men in­volved should have been is­sued tick­ets rath­er than being in­dict­ed.

“A lot of these peo­ple were my friends who were in­dict­ed, and pro­vid­ed fish to fami­lies who could not go out to fish them­selves,” he said. “These peo­ple were tar­get­ed. It was po­lit­i­cal­ly mo­ti­vated at the time. These peo­ple did not sup­port the trib­al lead­er­ship.”

With this year’s fish­ing o­pen­er on Saturday, the DNR’s Soring was asked what im­pact the fed­er­al in­ac­tion will have on en­force­ment. “We will still be en­for­cing state laws as we al­ways have,” said Soring.

He also under­scored that poach­ing hurts all an­glers. “If ev­er­y­one was com­pli­ant,” he said, “lim­its on wall­eye could po­ten­tial­ly be high­er than they are. Compliance is ne­ces­sary in ord­er to main­tain a heal­thy fish­er­y.”

 

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

  • related content

  • On his first day as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Andy Luger was told about “a po­ten­tial flaw” in the in­dict­ment and need­ed to dis­miss the case against four men charged in the poach­ing scheme on the Red Lake reservation.

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