May 17th, 2007 08:44 EST
Investigation Breaks up Illegal Big Game Guiding Ring
This week's sentencing of a Virginia man in a Federal courtroom in Charlottesville, Virginia, marked the close of an investigation of illegal guiding, outfitting, and hunting on public lands in New Mexico. The investigation resulted in the successful prosecution in Federal and State courts of twenty-one individuals, including the owner of a New Mexico outfitting company, a Virginia taxidermist, and several professional hunting guides and numerous hunter-clients. The case has been open since 2003, when a tip was received by a Virginia Game Warden.
Mike Archuleta, the final defendant in the case, plead guilty to one count of a Lacey Act, Class A Misdemeanor charge. Archuleta is the owner/operator of Mark V. Outfitters and Sierra Taxidermy in Espanola New Mexico. His sentence included a condition of providing no outfitting or guiding services for a period of five years.
The individuals involved in the case were setting up an illegal businesses in which guides took out-of-state sportsmen on the Valles Caldera National Preserve and other public lands in New Mexico to shoot elk, mule deer, antelope, cougar, black bear, oryx and other big game, even though State laws prohibited such hunts. Other violations included hunting without valid state hunting licenses, during closed seasons, without permits for protected government properties, from roadways and leaving game in the field to rot.
Other individuals from New Mexico who pled guilty to a range of charges have been identified as Jeff Clem, Eric Garcia, Mark Martinez, Rudy Valdez, and Vernon McCall. All of these subjects are from the Espanola area. Archuletta and Clem were already on probation for a previous violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Individuals in Virginia who plead guilty or abandoned wildlife include Wesley McGlothlin, who is the owner/operator of Antler Ridge Taxidermy in Amissville, Virginia, several guides employed by Mark V. Outfitters, some hunter clients, and some violators of Lacy Act or VA laws that were exposed peripherally by this investigation including: Brett Boyce, Amissville, Robert Brooks, Manassas, John Chelena, Centerville, Colin Clem, Linden, Chett Cockrill, Fredericksburg, Jamie Garrison, Culpeper, Brandon Ellison, Aldie, Shawn Hamrick, Huntly, Mike Johnson, Fredericksburg, Jessie Stringfellow, the Plains, Kevin Stringfellow, Culpeper, Chris Wolfe, Aldie, Richard Wolfe, Aldie, Martin Thorpe, Lodi, California, Debbie Miloslavich, Linden, Jessica Webster, Rappahannock County, Shawn Anderson, Roy Adams, Gary Charles, and Foster Straub, from Pennsylvania.
"This investigation disrupted a large-scale illegal guiding operation that was exploiting public resources for profit and greed," said Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Chavez, who oversees Service law enforcement operations in the Southwest. Wildlife is not meant to be commercialized for the monetary benefit of a few. Profiteering by providing illegal hunting opportunities was conducted at the expense of New Mexico's wildlife recourses.
"This large scale operation and investigation revealed that the effect on New Mexico's big game resources was becoming detrimental and needed to be stopped," said Nicholas Chavez, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement Operations in the Southwest Region. "Several Service agents, State Game Wardens and prosecutors from Virginia, New Mexico, and the Washington DC Department of Justice were instrumental in assisting with the successful completion of this case, as well as an undercover special agent from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service," said Chavez.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. Prosecutors Fred Frederici and Dean Tuckman of Albuquerque, Rusty Fitzgerald and William Gould of Charlottesville, and Wayne Hettenbach and David Joyce of the Department of Justice prosecuted the case. Hettenbach prosecuted at the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia.
Charges filed included violations of New Mexico hunting laws, the federal Lacey Act, False Statements, felon in possession of firearms, taxidermy permit violations, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. There were also significant cruelty to animal's charges because it was found that one of the defendants was trapping hawks and shooting his neighbors dogs and cats.
The subjects either pled guilty in state or federal courts in New Mexico or Virginia. Nine subjects were convicted of ten felonies. Sentences range from a period of probation to twelve months imprisonment. There were a total of $51,500 in fines, $59,350 in restitution, 36 months imprisonment, 42 years of probation, and forfeiture of 80 wildlife items, one truck, and 11 firearms handed down because of the investigation. The wildlife items included bear rugs, full body cougar mounts, elk antlers, head and shoulder elk mounts, antelope and oryx horns, and mule deer antlers. Penalties also include a prohibition of any hunting for nine subjects for a period of 24 years combined. All of the felony convictions carry a life-long prohibition from hunting with firearms.
Under the Lacy Act, passed in 1900 with the purpose of providing additional protection to wildlife, it is a Federal offense to take, possess, transport, sell, import, or export wild animals from their natural environment with the intention to make a profit.
The restitution funds were directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and will be used for conservation efforts in New Mexico and in Virginia.
To report poaching or wildlife crime call Operation Game Thief at 1-800- 432- 4263.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations.
The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. Visit the Service's website at http://www.fws.gov.