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Reaction from lawyers representing clients whose cases were thrown out was predictably positive.
Paul Engh, who represents Marc Lyons, said that “Mr. Lyons is gratified that his right to fish, which he considers sacred, has been vindicated by the court’s ruling.”
Similarly, attorney Andrew Mohring, who represented two of the other defendants, called Tunheim’s decision “a very thoughtful decision and the vindication of the rights of tribal people.”
However, to make matters murkier, Tunheim issued another decision Monday, denying a motion to dismiss the indictment of Alan Hemme, 56, who owns the Big Fish restaurant in Bena, Minn.
Hemme was charged with aiding and abetting the sale of unlawfully acquired fish. Tunheim wrote that the indictment “is based upon sufficient evidence such that the case must be presented to a jury.”
Scott Strouts, Hemme’s attorney, said his client was charged with helping to sell walleye caught by Reyes to two undercover conservation officers posing as out-of-state buyers.
“We feel Mr. Hemme cannot be charged with aiding and abetting the purchase or sale of walleyes that were not unlawfully acquired by a Native American,” Strouts said.
The investigation, which involved the U.S. Wildlife Service, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the Leech Lake and Red Lake bands was nicknamed Operation Squarehook.
Besides the federal prosecutions, 21 people were charged in six counties — Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Itasca, Pennington and Polk — and 19 cases remain open. There were two guilty pleas in Clearwater County. DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said his office would have no comment on Tunheim’s ruling.
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, a special prosecutor for the Leech Lake tribal court, said that seven individuals at Leech Lake have been charged in tribal court with violation of tribal law for improper purchase or sale of game fish, violation of netting privileges and, in one case, wasting fish.
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment Monday on the impact of the rulings.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224