Under a weight of evidence, Travis J. Branson of Cusick, Washington pled guilty to two counts of trafficking in bald and golden eagles, plus conspiracy, in a racket to hunt and kill these birds on the Flathead Indian Reservation.  Branson traveled from Washington state onto the tribals lands where he met up with his accomplice, and they harvested the birds for sale on the black market.

The evidence for knowledge and intent for the crimes came from a warranted search of mobile phones.  A press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office Montana gave an example.  A buyer inquired for eagle feathers on March 1, 2021 and Branson replied with the above and below pictures of tail feathers:

Credit: US Attorney's Office
Credit: US Attorney's Office

The buyer paid for the feathers by PayPal, and Branson mailed them.  Receipt of the package documented by text message.

The gig was really up on March 13, 2021 when police made a stop on Branson after he poached a golden eagle in Polson.  Inside they discovered feathers and the taloned feet of the raptor.

Warning: picture is graphic.  A little hard to take if an animal lover.

Credit: US Attorney's Office
Credit: US Attorney's Office

The mobile phones contained the incriminating messages and photos:

"I don't get em for free though...out hear committing felonies."

"[g]oing on a killing spree."

His illegal business may have gone overseas.  "International is still illegal...I just get em for 99 cents...price of a bullet..lol"

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Travis Branson faces up to over a quarter million in fines and years in prison.  Sentencing scheduled for July 31st.

His co-conspirator, Simon Paul, is still at large (not to be confused with music star Paul Simon).  According to news sources, these two are responsible for the slaughter of about 3,600 birds.

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