LIONS, BOBCATS, CAGES AND TRAPS
Christopher W. Loncarich, 56, of Mack, Colorado, was sentenced on November 20, 2014 in Denver’s U.S. District Court to 27 months in prison, followed by three-years of probation, for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation and sale of any wildlife taken in an illegal manner. Until his probation has been completed, he cannot hunt, pursue or trap any wildlife, and must undergo substance abuse and mental health treatment while on probation. In addition, Loncarich will appear before a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hearings Officer where he may receive up to a lifetime ban from hunting and fishing in Colorado as well as 43 other Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact states.
Loncarich and his assistant, Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 31, of Medford, Oregon were indicted in January by a grand jury on 17 counts of illegally trapping and maiming mountain lions and bobcats. Loncarich pled guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act in August of 2014. Rodgers pled guilty to the same charge in July of 2014 and will be sentenced in early 2015.
“The sentence should send a strong message that poaching is a serious crime and will be treated as such by law enforcement agencies and the courts,” said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde of CPW. “Our officers and investigators worked hard to bring these criminals to justice, and we are satisfied with the outcome.”
A three-year investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed what Velarde said was one of the worst examples of poaching he has seen in his 40 plus-year career managing Colorado’s wildlife.
According to the indictments, between 2007 and 2010, Loncarich, aided by his daughters, Rodgers and assistant guide Marvin Ellis, conspired to capture lions and bobcats then cage them, hold them in leg traps or shoot them in the foot or stomach. Coordinating by radio communication, they released the hindered cats when their client arrived. The goal was to make the cats easier for their clients to kill during excursions along the rugged Book Cliff Mountains in western Colorado and eastern Utah.
Several cats killed in Utah were illegally transported to Colorado where Loncarich falsified documents to obtain the required seals for the hides. The outfitter’s clients then transported the illegally taken cats back to their home states in further violation of the Lacey Act.
Loncarich charged 18 clients between $3,500 and $7,500 for each lion hunt and between $700 and $1,500 for each bobcat hunt, sharing his earnings with his assistants. Investigators say approximately 30 cats were killed in this manner.
In what wildlife officials say was a particularly egregious example of their activities, the group captured a mountain lion and fit it with a radio-tracking collar. Aided by the device, they captured the same lion a year later, immobilizing it overnight with a leg-hold trap. The next day, they placed the lion in a cage and took it to Loncarich’s residence in Mack where it was held for approximately one week while the outfitters waited for their client to arrive from Missouri. They then placed the lion in a box, transporting it via snowmobile to a predetermined area where it was released for the client to kill. Loncarich charged $4,000 for the outing.
“This was not hunting – it was a crime,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “It was cruel to the animal and contrary to what an ethical, legal hunt should be.”
One of Loncarich’s daughters pled guilty to her role in the scheme and was sentenced on two misdemeanor Lacey Act violations on September 30, 2014. She received one year of probation, a $1,000 fine and sixty hours of community service, thirty of which must be spent with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hunter Education program. The other daughter also pled guilty and was sentenced on a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation, receiving one year of probation, a $500 fine and thirty-six hours of community service, half of which must be spent with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hunter Education program.
Ellis also pled guilty to a felony on June 3, 2013 and he was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home detention and ordered to pay a $3,100 fine.
Loncarich’s 2008 Ford truck and Ellis’ 1995 Dodge truck were seized during the investigation, having been used in the commission of Lacey Act violations. Both vehicles were subsequently forfeited to the federal government. In addition, three of Loncarich’s clients have been issued federal, Lacey Act violation notices. Those clients have paid a total of $13,100 in fines.
“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 Oberholtzer, who oversees 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.”