Two men illegally killed thousands of birds, including bald and golden eagles, and sold them for profit over the course of several years, according to prosecutors. 

Simon Paul and Travis John Branson slayed about 3,600 birds and sold the entire carcasses or portions of them for large sums of cash on the black market, federal prosecutors wrote in an indictment filed Dec. 7. The men were charged with one count of conspiracy, 13 counts of unlawful trafficking and one count of violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that combats illegal trafficking of wildlife, fish or plants, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors said Branson would travel from Washington to the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, where he would meet Paul to shoot bald and golden eagles between January 2019 and March 2021. Paul, who lived nearby, was charged as the “shooter” and “shipper” for helping to kill, transport and ship the eagle or its parts for future sales on the black market, according to the indictment. 

On Dec. 17, 2020, for example, Branson sent a message to a buyer with a golden eagle tail set and received a payment through PayPal for it the same day, prosecutors said in the indictment. Paul allegedly mailed the eagle tail set from Montana to Texas two days later. 

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And on March 13, 2020, the men “returned to a previously killed deer to lure in eagles,” the indictment states. Branson shot and killed a golden eagle later that day, prosecutors said. 

Branson boasted in messages that he was out “committing felonies” and told buyers he was “on a killing spree,” according to the indictment. Though the pair was accused of slaying thousands of birds, prosecutors didn’t clarify how many eagles they killed in total.

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The bald eagle, which was delisted from the endangered species list in 2007, quadruped in population between 2009 and 2020, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The population climbed to around 316,700 individual bald eagles, including 71,400 nesting pairs, in 48 states, according to the 2020 report. But the raptors face numerous threats.

Researchers found 46% of bald eagles and 47% of golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning in a sample of 1,210 of the two species in 38 states, according to a study published in Science in February 2022. The same year, a wind energy company pleaded guilty and paid over $8 million in fines after killing at least 150 eagles on its U.S. wind farms.

Paul and Branson are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 8, the Daily Montanan reported. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did either defendant.