DENVER — Federal authorities have accused a Colorado man and a guide from Oregon of illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats as part of a scheme to make hunting the cats easier for their clients.
The U.S. Justice Department said today that Christopher Loncarich of Mack, Colo., and Nicholaus Rodgers of Medford have been indicted on charges including transportation and sale of unlawfully taken wildlife.
Authorities say Loncarich is a big-game outfitter who operated in Colorado on the Utah border.
The indictment alleges Loncarich and Rodgers trapped the cats and released them when clients were nearby. Authorities said guides sometimes shot the cats in the paws or legs or attached leg-hold traps to hold them.
The Justice Department said the 17-count indictment includes several felonies.
A check of Oregon court records show no criminal history here for the 30-year-old Rodgers. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records show no fishing or hunting license registered to anyone with his name as spelled in federal court documents.
Court records show that Rodgers had an Eagle Point address in 2009 when he received a traffic citation for failing to put his validation tags on his vehicle's license plates.
The Oregon State Marine Board, which licenses guides and outfitters in the state, has no records of a licensed guide here by that name.
Authorities said Loncarich outfitted and guided hunts for mountain lions and bobcats in the Bookcliffs Mountains, which span the Colorado-Utah border.
Wildlife officials said mountain lions and bobcats are difficult to hunt. The hunting seasons for the cats stretch from November to March when snow is likely to be on the ground. Guides usually release trained dogs to track the cats after footprints are discovered.
Hunting dogs follow the cat's scent in the snow, then corner the pursued cat. At that point a hunter arrives and kills the treed cat.
Authorities said Loncarich and his assistant guides devised a scheme whereby they would trap the cats in cages before hunts and release the cats when the client was nearby. They said Loncarich, Rodgers and other guides communicated by radio to ensure that they took clients to the location where the cats had been released.
According to authorities, many of the clients did not have proper tags or licenses to take mountain lions or bobcats in Utah.
The indictment says Loncarich, Rodgers and other guides brought the animals killed in Utah back to Colorado, where Loncarich often took clients to check in the illegally taken mountain lions with Colorado wildlife officials.
They said Loncarich provided false records to obtain proper records for the hides, which were often sent to the clients' home states.
The Justice Department said four assistant guides already have pleaded guilty to crimes related to the conspiracy. They have not been identified.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.