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A Crow tribal official has pleaded guilty in federal court to trafficking in eagles and migratory bird parts.

Kenneth G. Shane, 45, of Crow Agency, a member of the Crow Legislature and Speaker of the House, appeared before U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy on July 24. Co-defendant Douglas Vance Crooked Arm, 36, of Pryor, also entered a guilty plea.

Shane and Crooked Arm are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 22 for conspiracy to traffic in eagles and migratory birds and unlawfully trafficking in migratory birds. Both men face a maximum of seven years in prison and a possible $500,000 fine for the two counts.

According to the plea agreement, Shane entered a conditional guilty plea to the two counts, with two other counts dismissed. If Crooked Arm’s motion to dismiss, which was previously denied, is successful upon appeal, then Shane could withdraw his guilty plea.

Prosecutor Mark S. Smith said in court records the trafficking ran from August 2008 until about March 2009. The trafficking was discovered during Operation Hanging Rock, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service undercover investigation into the unlawful sale of migratory bird feathers.

Crooked Arm and Shane sold or offered to sell golden and bald eagle parts along with a magpie feather fan and a hawk tail fan.

Two of the sales included a golden eagle feather fan for $1,500 and parts of a golden eagle for $1,500 to undercover agents, records state. Crooked Arm attracted eagles and hawks by setting out a poached deer carcass near Crow Agency in November 2008.

Shane’s situation is complicated by his being a Crow senator and Speaker of the House. The tribe’s constitution says that if an officer of the legislature is convicted of a felony, the Speaker of the House or his official designee “shall immediately declare the office vacant and direct the secretary of the Executive Branch or his official designee to hold an election in the appropriate district within 60 days.”

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A news release from the Legislature said that Shane voluntarily resigned as Speaker of the House effective July 26. He will remain a senator, the news release said, “until such time as his conviction is final as a matter of law.”

Since Shane’s conviction is conditional upon judicial approval of the plea agreement, with Shane’s right to withdraw the guilty plea if the court rejects the proposed agreement, newly appointed Speaker of the House Sen. Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead concluded that Shane should remain seated as a senator until the sentencing.

The news release also said that Shane, in his own pretrial motion to dismiss, asserted Crow treaty-based rights to engage in commerce involving migratory birds and their parts. He also argued about the proper interpretation and application of the federal statute on which the charges were based.

Shane told the Legislature he plans to appeal the denial of the motion to dismiss. If the appeal is successful, “his guilty plea may be withdrawn and his conviction reversed,” the news release said.

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.