SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A man who was once part of a group that guides clients on mountain lion hunts has pleaded guilty to federal wildlife crimes.
The Department of Justice says Christopher Loncarich, 55, of Mack had help from his partner Nicolaus Rodgers of Shady Cove, Ore. They led hunts around the Book Cliffs Mountains on the Utah border. They are accused of sometimes capturing the cats in Utah and bringing them back into Colorado.
Rodgers, 31, pleaded guilty in federal court in Denver to a felony conspiracy charge on Thursday.
“Rodgers pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell in interstate commerce any wildlife that has been taken or possessed in violation of state laws or regulations,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Hunting of mountain lions isn’t easy and it’s not supposed to be. The season lasts most of the winter from November to March. Normally guides will track a mountain lion, release dogs so the cat goes up a tree, and that’s when the client hunter shows up and shoots the animal.
Loncarich, with the help of Rodgers, were accused of trapping the cats and making sure they couldn’t escape. The most disturbing allegation is that they would shoot the cat in the leg or put a trap on them beforehand so they weren’t so elusive from the clients.
It’s the result of a lengthy investigation with the help of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Some law enforcement officers say it’s something they haven’t seen before.
“I would say this is probably one of the more egregious situations that I have seen in more than 20 years of doing this,” Dean Riggs with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in January. “We in society expect people to follow laws and to do this in a ‘fair chase’ sort of manner.”
Four other members of the outfitting group have already pleaded guilty as part of the ring.
The maximum penalty for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act is up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.