WICHITA, KS (KTRE) - Two Martinsville brothers pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Wichita, Kan., to felony conspiracy and wildlife trafficking charges according to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas.
The charges stemmed from the illegal sale of guided deer hunts in southern Kansas. James Bobby Butler Jr., 42, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, one substantive Lacey Act count and one count of obstruction of justice, the Department announced. His brother, Marlin Jackson Butler, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and one Lacey Act count.
The Lacey Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell in interstate commerce any wildlife taken or possessed in violation of state law or regulation.
The federal case involves more than 60 hunters from across the nation suspected of poaching deer during guided hunts in Kansas.
Camp Lone Star owner James Bobby Butler Jr. and his brother Marlin Jackson Butler, who worked as a guide, were the only defendants charged in a case that involved searches in Louisiana, Texas and Kansas.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas said according to the May 2010 indictment in the case and Wednesday's plea agreements, James and Marlin Butler conspired together to knowingly transport and sell in interstate commerce deer that had been hunted in violation of Kansas state law. The office claimed the brothers operated a guiding service and hunting camp near Coldwater, Kan., at which they sold guiding services to out-of-state hunters for the purpose of illegally hunting and killing white-tailed and mule deer. The office went on to say Hunters guided by the Butler brothers killed deer in excess of annual bag limits, hunted deer without permits or using permits for the wrong deer management unit, killed deer using illegal equipment and hunted using prohibited methods such as spotlighting.
The government alleges out-of-state hunters illegally killed more than 119 deer during the 2005-2008 hunting seasons.
The guided hunts were sold for between $2,500 and $5,500, and in several instances resulted in the killing of trophy-sized buck deer. In the plea agreements, the U.S. Attorney's Office said the Butlers admitted knowingly selling guided hunts for the illegal taking of the 25 buck deer identified in the indictment, for which hunters paid them a total of $77,500 in guiding fees plus tips. In addition to selling guiding services, the brothers also arranged for transport of the deer, in particular the antlers and capes, from Kansas to Texas and Louisiana.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas said James Butler also admitted in his plea agreement that he instructed another person to conceal or destroy evidence during the investigation.
The office said a maximum penalty for a felony violation of the conspiracy statute and the Lacey Act includes up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the obstruction charge against James Butler includes up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine. The office said according to the plea agreements filed, the prosecution agreed to recommend sentences of 41 months in prison for James Butler and 27 months in prison for Marlin Butler, in addition to fines, restitution and three years of supervised release during which time both Butler brothers would be prohibited from all hunting and guiding activity. Sentencing hearings for both defendants are set for June 2, 2011.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The case is being jointly prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Kansas and Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.