MINNEAPOLIS – Federal prosecutors have filed indictments against 10 people accused with illegally poaching and marketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in walleye and other protected fish on the Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian reservations.
The four indictments charge each of the men with one count of transportation, sale, and purchase of fish taken in violation of the Lacey Act, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the United States Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis.
The Lacey Act, originally signed in 1900, is a conservation law enforcing criminal and civil penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants.
Prosecutors filed indictments against the following:
- Larry W. Bellefy, 53, of Bagley
- Thomas P. Sumner, 54, of Red Lake
- Brian W. Holthusen, 47, of Red Lake
- Larry Good, 58, of Red Lake
- Michael D. Brown, 54, no known address
- Michael J. Nei, 48, of Bemidji
- Jerry A. Reyes, 51, of Cass Lake
- Marc L. Lyons, 61, of Bena
- Frederick W. Tibbetts, 61, of Bena
- Alan D. Hemme, 55, of Bena
According to the news release from the United States Attorney’s Office, all four indictments allege the men “knowingly engaged in conduct that involved the sale and purchase of fish with a market value in excess of $350.”
Bellefy, Sumner and Holthusen are accused of taking fish from Red Lake between July 2009 and July 2011 without the approval of the Red Lake Fisheries Association. The indictment alleges Sumner and Holthusen obtained the fish and then sold them to Bellefy, who resold them.
Good is accused of taking fish from Red Lake between July 2009 and July 2011 without approval of the Red Lake Fisheries Association.
The collapse of the walleye population in the Red Lakes led to a ban of all walleye fishing there in 1999. After successful efforts to recover their population, fishing reopened in 2006.
Gary Barnard, the area fish supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources, said there was a history of illegal fishing before the 7-year ban.
“There hasn’t been a lot of this activity since it’s been reopened because they’ve had some close controls on it,” Barnard said. “And I think the effort here between the different agencies, it shows the kind of effort to keep control of this kind of thing.”
Brown and Nei are accused of netting fish from Leech Lake for commercial purposes between July 2010 and July 2011. Brown allegedly netted the fish and then sold them to Nei.
Reyes, Lyons, Tibbetts and Hemme are accused of taking fish from several lakes on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation between July 2009 and July 2011. Reyes, Lyons and Tibbetts allegedly took the fish from the lakes and then sold them to Hemme, who owns a restaurant in Bena.
The news release said authorities “began investigating these black-market activities in July 2009. During the course of that investigation, officers conducted numerous controlled purchases of illegally obtained fish. They also seized fish during the execution of several search warrants.”
“Authorities estimate the fair market value of the fish illegally obtained through the activity covered by these four indictments to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
If convicted, each defendant faces a potential maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. The indictments also seek the forfeiture of the defendants' boats and other equipment used to poach, sell or buy the fish, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Leech Lake Division of Resource Management and the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources were involved in the investigation.