Feds target 60 hunters across nation after alleged guided hunts at Kansas camp

By Roxana Hegeman, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feds target 60 hunters in Kansas hunting probe

WICHITA, Kan. — The Justice Department is targeting more than 60 hunters across the nation for allegedly poaching deer during guided hunts at Camp Lone Star in Kansas, a court document shows.

The scope of the grand jury investigation, believed to be one of the largest criminal prosecutions involving the illegal taking of deer, was made public in a court filing Monday in the federal government’s case against the camp’s owner and his brother, both of Martinsville, Texas.

James Bobby Butler Jr., 41, the owner and operator of the hunting club in Coldwater, Kan., and his brother Marlin Jackson Butler, 36, who worked as a guide, are charged with conspiracy and the unlawful sale and transport of wildlife. James Butler is also charged with obstruction of justice in the 23-count indictment filed May 25 in U.S. District Court in Wichita.

If convicted and given maximum sentences, they could face lengthy prison terms. Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, said in an e-mail that it was the biggest case of its kind prosecuted in the state.

However, James Butler’s attorney Kurt Kerns calls the legal action “ridiculous.”

“The state of Kansas has paid out over $100,000 to independent contractors to thin the Kansas deer herd for management purposes,” Kerns said in an e-mail. “And now our tax money is being spent making federal cases out of alleged rednecks who supposedly harvest an extra deer.”

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show the nation has 10.3 million big game hunters. About 12 percent, or 1.3 million people, hunt outside of their state of residence. Kansas is a popular destination, drawing an estimated 88,000 out-of-state hunters each year.

Defense attorneys learned during while examining the prosecution evidence in the Butler case that the government recently mailed so-called target letters to many of the out-of-state hunters who came to Camp Lone Star, Kerns said.

Their court filing noted the government alleges more than 60 hunters illegally killed more than 119 deer between the 2005-2008 hunting season, including the taking of 70 trophy white-tail bucks.

Roger Falk, the attorney representing Marlin Butler, said his client has pleaded not guilty but otherwise declined to discuss the allegations made by the government.

Defense attorneys cited the broader grand jury probe in a motion seeking to designate the case as complex, a ruling that would give them more time to prepare their defense without running afoul of speedy trial restrictions. Prosecutors are not opposing that designation, but a hearing on it was set for Friday before U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown.

The defense filing nonetheless provided a rare public glimpse at the grand jury investigation.

Based on the recent target letters sent to individuals identified as subjects of the investigation, the defense motion said it expects those hunters may be testifying soon in front of a federal grand jury and that other indictments would likely follow.

The Butlers are charged with conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the interstate transport of any wildlife taken in violation of state regulations. The indictment alleges they violated the act by purchasing and selling white-tailed deer and mule deer.

The government alleges the brothers charged out-of-state hunters $3,500 per hunt with archery equipment and $5,000 per hunt with a firearm for guided hunts at Camp Lone Star and some 50,000 nearby acres leased for hunting activities.

Prosecutors allege that during the guided hunts the Butlers and others encouraged hunters to take deer illegally by hunting without a valid license. They’re also accused of letting hunters illegally spotlight deer during night hunts and use illegal equipment, such as firearms during archery season.

The illegal hunting practices allowed the guided hunters to kill more deer than they could have killed lawfully, the lawsuit charges, allowing the Butler brothers to collect more guiding fees and tips.

The obstruction of justice counts involve allegations that James Butler lied to a fish and wildlife agent, told an employee to remove and destroy deer head mounts so they could not used as evidence, and instructed an employee to lie to investigators.

The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the other felony charges carry a maximum five-year prison term and $250,000 fine. The government is also seeking a $148,250 forfeiture against both men.

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