Former PCI teacher sentenced by federal judge

Published 4:38pm Sunday, May 27, 2012

Alexander Alvarez, the former cultural educator for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said Tuesday he is owning up to his mistakes and looks forward to helping others avoid similar circumstances following his sentencing last week for killing migratory birds and selling their feathers on the black market.

Alvarez received three years of probation and was ordered by U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade to pay restitution in the amount of $31,000 for violating the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Act through the sale of Anhinga tail feathers, as well as the feathers of other protected birds. He could have faced a sentence of up to five years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.

Alvarez said Tuesday he initially became involved in the process through the legal act of providing the feathers of birds indigenous to the southeast United States to registered tribal members of tribes in other areas of the country for religious and ceremonial use, an act protected under federal law.

“The feathers have been a big part of Indian country for a long, long time,” Alvarez said. “When I got started providing the feathers it was for tribes in Montana, Arizona Canada, and just all over for the Native American church. I was first approached by a man, they called him roadman, like a minister or a preacher. It started with me trying to help someone out and provide a tool for prayer.”

Alvarez said the problems began when he went a step further and began attempting to sell the feathers for a profit to unauthorized parties.

“Unfortunately, greed does get in the way, and I totally own my mistake,” Alvarez said. “It’s a road that I never, ever should have gone down, because of the losses that have been suffered, not just on my part, but on many other people’s part.”

Following a federal investigation that began in 2009, Alvarez was dismissed from his position with PCI after he pleaded guilty in February of this year to attempting to sell more than a dozen feathers to a man in Louisiana.

Alvarez said he has remained busy throughout the course of his trial attempting to make restitution for his actions, even speaking in Washington, D.C., to a Senate subcommittee on migratory birds.

“As humans we sometimes make really horrible mistakes in judgment,” he said. “I wish I had never gotten involved with it at all; however, I have seen a lot of good things come out of this. The fish and wildlife people have done a really great job of protecting our resources for future generations. I’ve actually assisted the Senate committee on Indian affairs in Washington. I was able to provide consultation to one of their members before meeting with fish and wildlife to help find ways to discourage this type of activity and for the federal government to actually provide the necessities that Native Americans need for their ceremonies.”

Alvarez said he is looking forward to continuing to aid in the process of finding alternative ways for Native American to legally obtain feathers and other items needed in their ceremonies and is doing what he can to mend the mistakes he has made.

“Through all of this stuff I’ve done a lot of self-reflection,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with some things and overcome a lot of demons. One thing that I believe is that if you mess up in life you should own up to it. Don’t try to hide your mistakes. Face them up front, because good things always come out of that.”

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