Big game criminal investigations are more aggressive, sophisticated and involve more inter-state collaboration among agencies than ever before, according to Beate Galda, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks enforcement division administrator. Galda said the most recent example is the indictment of seven individuals by a federal grand jury in Great Falls in Dec. and Jan. Charges included violations of Montana state wildlife laws and one count each of conspiracy to violate the federal Lacey Act. Wildlife alleged to have been taken include antelope, mule and whitetail deer. The seven indicted in Great Falls face a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count in the indictment.
"The 28 counts in the federal felony indictment came as a result of a two-year, highly collaborative, interstate investigation," Galda said. "Wildlife criminal investigations are becoming more sophisticated by necessity. Independently, FWP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have limited resources. But by pooling our resources, we're able to be much more effective in combating wildlife crime."
Agencies involved in bringing the recent indictments include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Alabama Department of Conservation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.
Of the seven indicted, four are from Forsyth, Montana: Wade C. Keyes, 39; Stephen R. Brewer, 41; Eileen Thomas, 39; and Eric S. Johnson, 39. The others are from outside the state: Fredric Clark, 55, of Toney, Alabama; David M. Ferguson, 43 of Madison, Alabama; and William H. Stender Jr., 57, of Huntsville, Alabama.
The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to transport interstate, purchase or sell wildlife taken in violation of state law. Federal Lacey Act penalties are based on the value of the wildlife taken. Restitution in Montana for unlawfully taken trophy wildlife was increased by the 1999 State Legislature to a range of $2,000 to $30,000.