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Final two men cleared in 'Operation Squarehook' fish poaching case

MINNEAPOLIS--Federal indictments against the last two of 10 men accused of fish poaching on northern Minnesota  tribal waters in 2010 have been dismissed in U.S. District Court.

The cases stem from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Operation Squarehook to investigate illegal sale of fish in the Bemidji area focusing on allegations that tribal members caught walleye on lakes within reservation borders and sold them to non-Indians at below market rates.

Authorities argued netting fish for commercial purposes within the boundaries of the reservation was a violation of the Lacey Act, a conservation law signed in 1900 to enforce criminal and civil penalties for the illegal trade of animals.

In the latest court action, an order of dismissal was approved by U.S. District Judge John. Tunheim in Minneapolis clearing Alan Hemme, of Bena, and Michael Nei, of Bemidji, of felony transportation, sale and purchase of fish taken in violation of tribal law.

Hemme's attorney Jan Stuurmans said the U.S. Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit Court issued an opinion Feb. 10 affirming the dismissals of the government's claims and it appeared the case would not reach the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, Stuurmans said he expected the charges would be dismissed voluntarily in the near future, which finally happened earlier this month..

That ruling by the court earlier this year cleared Michael Brown and Jerry "Otto" Reyes, of Cass Lake, and Marc Lyons and Frederick "Bud" Tibbetts of Bena. Lyons died on Nov. 22.

Brown, Reyes, Lyons and Tibbetts were accused of netting and selling fish for commercial purposes within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation in violation of the Leech Lake Conservation Code. Indictments against the men were dismissed based on the grounds their prosecution violates fishing rights reserved under the 1837 Treaty between the United States and the Chippewa. Brown, Reyes and Lyons are members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Tibbetts is enrolled with the White Earth Band.

Charges against the four men were terminated in November 2013, but federal prosecutors submitted an appeal to the court's decision to dismiss indictments, arguing the Lacey Act promoted tribal sovereignty. The judgement in February denied the appeal.

Indictments against Larry Good, Thomas Sumner and Brian Holthusen, of Red Lake, and Larry Bellefy, of Bagley, who also were arrested in the case, were dismissed last year. Those four men were accused of taking fish from Red Lake without approval from the Red Lake Fisheries Association. The indictment against Good, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, was also dismissed in November 2013, citing the 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa. The United States appealed the decision but the appeal was denied in March of last year. Soon after, indictments against Sumner, Holthusen and Bellefy were also dismissed.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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