Four federal indictments have been filed against a total of 10 individuals in connection with illegal poaching and marketing of walleye and other protected fish on the Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian reservations.
All 10 people, including former Sleepy Eye resident, Alan D. Hemme, 55 of Bena, were charged with one count of transportation, sale and purchase of fish taken in violation of the Lacey Act.
This is Minnesota’s largest case of illegal fish commercialization in two decades.
If convicted, the defendants could face a potential maximum penalty of five years in federal prison on each count. And because the federal justice system does not have parole, a convicted offender will spend virtually his entire sentence behind bars. Any sentence, however, would be determined by a federal district court judge.
Authorities began investigating these black-market activities in July 2009. The three-year special investigation, known as Operation Squarehook, involved about 60 officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and tribal authorities from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
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.
The first indictment charges Larry W. Bellefy, age 53, of Bagley; Thomas P. Sumner, age 54, of Red Lake; and Brian W. Holthusen, age 47, also of Red Lake.
The second indictment charges Michael D. Brown, age 54, no known address; and Michael J. Nei, age 48, of Bemidji.
The third indictment charges Jerry A. Reyes, age 51, of Cass Lake; and Marc L. Lyons, age 61; Frederick W. Tibbetts, age 61; and Alan D. Hemme, age 55, all of Bena.
The fourth indictment charges Larry Good, age 58, of Red Lake.
All four indictments allege that the defendants knowingly engaged in conduct that involved the sale and purchase of fish with a market value in excess of $350.
The first indictment alleges that between July 2009 and July 2011, Bellefy, Sumner and Holthusen, took fish from Red Lake without the approval of the Red Lake Fisheries Association. The indictment specifically asserts that Sumner and Holthusen obtained the fish and then sold them to Bellefy, who resold them.
The second indictment alleges that between July 2010 and July 2011, Brown and Nei netted fish from Leech Lake for commercial purposes. That indictment specifically states that Brown netted the fish and then sold them to Nei.
Page 2 of 2 -
The third indictment alleges that between July 2009 and July 2011, Reyes, Lyons, Tibbetts, and Hemme also took fish from several lakes on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. That indictment specifically claims that Ryes, Lyons and Tibbetts took the fish from the lakes and then sold them to Hemme, who owns a restaurant in Bena.
The fourth indictment alleges that between July 2009 and July 2011, Good took fish from Red Lake without approval of the Red Lake Fisheries Association.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Calhoun-Lopez.
An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that offenses have been committed by a defendant. A defendant, of course, is presumed innocent until he or she pleads guilty or is proven guilty at trial.