WICHITA — For years, hunters trekked to Camp Lone Star near Coldwater where prosecutors say they paid thousands of dollars to illegally kill deer in Kansas.
By ROXANA HEGEMAN
The Associated Press
On Monday, what is believed to be one of the largest criminal investigations involving the illegal taking of deer draws to a close with the re-sentencing of two Texas brothers who ran the operation from 2005 to 2008.
James Bobby Butler Jr., the owner and operator of the hunting camp, and his brother, Marlin Jackson Butler, who worked as a guide, admitted in 2011 to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the interstate transport of any wildlife taken in violation of state regulations. The brothers, both from Martinsville, Texas, pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and violation of the Lacey Act.
James Butler also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for ordering an employee at the High Roller Whitetails, a deer operation in Center, Texas, to get rid of several white-tailed deer mounts after wildlife officers began conducting interviews in Texas regarding the federal investigation. The employee refused to destroy the mounts.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its decision last year, said the district court made a mistake in 2011 in calculating sentences based on the full price of a guided hunt, rather than the actual retail value of the animals.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot is expected to hear testimony at Monday’s hearing about the market value of deer as well as the conduct of the Butler brothers in other uncharged poaching incidents to come up with new sentences. He must also rule on the appropriateness of a hunting and guiding ban for James Butler.
John Brooks, the agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who led the investigation, is expected to take the stand for the government. The defense plans to call several people who hunted at the camp. Both sides are also bringing in expert witnesses to testify as to the market value of antlers and other deer parts.
The wide-ranging investigation included search warrants executed in Louisiana, Kansas and Texas. At least 25 hunters were eventually sentenced in separate cases on lesser charges connected to activities at the hunting camp.
Prosecutors alleged that during the guided hunts the Butlers and others encouraged hunters to take deer illegally by hunting without a valid license. They were also accused of letting hunters illegally spotlight deer during night hunts and use illegal equipment, such as firearms during archery season.
James Butler was initially sentenced by the late U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and $25,000 in restitution. Marlin Butler was initially sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $10,000 in restitution. Those initial sentences were thrown out by the appeals court when it sent the case back for re-sentencing.