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8/4/2014 4:07:00 PM
Sowinskis avoid jail for illegal eagle possession
Sentences lighter than what prosecution sought

Two Sugar Camp men charged with illegal possession of bald eagles will avoid jail, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson on Monday handed down sentences to Alvin Sowinski, 78, and his son Paul, 46, for their roles in poisoning and handling wild animals on their potato farm.

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged each of the men with a single misdemeanor count of illegal possession of an American bald eagle under federal law. They pleaded guilty in May.

As part of a deal, both men agreed to pay restitution and had consented to revocation of their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for at least five years. The U.S. Attorney’s office had sought revocation of those privileges for 15 years, as well as jail time.

But at a hearing on Monday in Madison, Peterson issued a lighter sentence.

Alvin Sowinski received a $30,000 fine; a seven-year ban on hunting, fishing and trapping privileges; one year of probation; and 120 days of home detention. Paul Sowinski received a $10,000 fine; a five-year ban on hunting, fishing and trapping privileges; and one year of probation.

Both men must also pay $100,000 in restitution.

Alvin and Paul issued a statement late Monday afternoon saying they had accepted responsibility and deeply regretted their conduct.

“The charges and conduct at issue in this case, however, do not accurately reflect the many years of stewardship that the Sowinskis have exercised on their property in positive ways,” the statement reads in part.

It continued: “For decades, both men have made innumerable service and charitable contributions to their community and enhanced the natural resources on their property. They look forward to continuing those traditions for many years to come.”

United States Attorney John W. Vaudreuil also issued a statement, calling the sentence “both correct and just.”

“The message to these two defendants and others should be very clear: wildlife in Wisconsin is for all of us to treasure, and indiscriminate, illegal killing will not be tolerated,” he said.

Friends and family of the Sowinskis wrote Peterson to express support for Alvin and Paul. The Sowinskis have deep roots in Sugar Camp, where Paul sits on the town board. The family owns approximately 8,000 acres of land in Oneida County, and uses approximately half of that to grow potatoes.

The case arose from a multi-year investigation into allegations of animal poisoning. Investigators from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claim to have found seven dead eagles on the Sowinski’s property, among more than 70 dead animals in total. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, in May 2007 a DNR warden inspecting the property discovered numerous dead animals: a bald eagle, crow, gray squirrel and bobcat.

That prompted a wider investigation involving various local, state and federal agencies.

Alvin admitted to placing bait piles around the farm to kill predators that threatened potato crops. Paul sought to dispose of three dead eagles, one of which the government planted; he did not participate in the poisoning, did not approve of it and had asked his father to stop, according to court documents.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Article comment by: Marty Hafenbreadl

I'm sorry, but did the reporter claim that a government planted a dead eagle on the Sowinski's property? At this point it certainly looks like the Times reporter has a bit of an axe to grind and took a highly partisan shot at 'the government'....again.

So despite their cumulative $140,000 in fines why is this paper still attempting to portray these guys as victims?

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