Colorado man sentenced for illegal wildlife killings

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A hunting outfitter and guide who reportedly captured and maimed mountain lions and bobcats so his clients could more easily hunt them has been sentenced to prison. Christopher W. Loncarich, 56, of Mack, Colo., was sentenced to 27 months in prison, and 3 years’ probation for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During his probation he is prohibited from hunting or fishing.

The conspiracy involved felony interstate transportation and sale of unlawfully taken wildlife, and felony creation of false records concerning wildlife that was sold in interstate commerce.  The sentence was the result of a joint investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On Jan. 7, 2014, a grand jury in the District of Colorado returned a 17-count indictment charging Loncarich and Nicholaus Rodgers, one of Loncarich’s assistants, with illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats in order to make taking the cats easier for their paying clients.  The investigation uncovered approximately 18 clients, since 2004, who had taken part in the illegal killing of more than 30 mountain lions and bobcats.

Loncarich and his assistants committed numerous state and federal violations during the 2007 to 2010 hunting seasons.  The group devised a scheme in which mountain lions and bobcats would be located prior to a client’s arrival and then “hindered” or “shortened up” to make it easier and quicker for their clients to kill the animals when they arrived.  Methods of  “shortening” the illegal take included trapping and holding the cats in cages prior to the arrival of the client and then releasing the animals when the client was present, as well as shooting the cats in the paws, stomach, and/or legs or attaching leg-hold traps to them prior to the client arriving on scene.

“Many of the violations committed by Mr. Loncarich appear to be the result of greed, unlawfully killing and maiming wildlife to increase his profits,” said Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholster in a press release. Oberholtzer oversees U.S Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement operations in the Mountain-Prairie Region. “The dedication and expertise of the state and federal investigators and prosecuting attorneys in bringing these persons to justice was outstanding. These convictions, and those to follow, send a clear message that unlawful commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated.”

In addition, many of Loncarich’s clients did not have the required tags or licenses to take mountain lions or bobcats in Utah, completing federal violations when unlawfully killed cats were transported across state lines. Loncarich, Rodgers, and the other guides often worked to sneak the animals unlawfully taken in Utah across the state line into Colorado, and frequently communicated via radio using coded language in an attempt to evade law enforcement officers.

After a kill, Loncarich often took the client to “check in” the illegally taken mountain lions with Colorado wildlife officials where Loncarich would provide false information to obtain seals for the hides. Many of the cats were then transported back to the client’s home state. Clients paid Loncarich up to $7,500 for each mountain-lion “hunt” and Loncarich would then share the proceeds with his assistant guides.

Loncarich admitted to personally assisting clients in unlawfully killing 15 mountain lions and 4 bobcats during the course of the conspiracy.

Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said, “This is easily among the worst cases of illegal taking and poaching of wildlife I have seen in my 40-plus years in wildlife management.”

Loncarich’s daughters, Caitlin and Andie, and assistant guide Marvin Ellis, previously pled guilty to violations of the Lacey Act or conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.  On Sept. 30, 2014, Caitlin Loncarich was sentenced on two misdemeanor Lacey Act violations.  She received one year of probation, a $1,000 fine as well as 60 hours of community service (30 of which are to be spent with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hunter Education program).  Also on Sept. 30, 2014, Andie Loncarich was sentenced on a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation.  She received one year of probation, a $500 fine as well as 36 hours of community service (half of which is to be spent with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hunter Education program).

On June 3, 2013, Marvin Ellis was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home detention and ordered to pay a $3,100 fine. Rodgers, who also pleaded guilty, will be sentenced on Jan. 6, 2015.

Loncarich’s 2008 Ford truck and assistant guide Marvin Ellis’ 1995 Dodge truck were seized during the investigation and found by a federal judge to have been used in the commission of Lacey Act violations. Both vehicles were subsequently forfeited to the government. In addition, three hunting clients have been issued federal violation notices for violations of the Lacey Act and those clients have paid a total of $ 13,100 in fines.

The case was prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

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From November 2014.