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Wildlife poacher gets federal probation

A Shady Cove man who helped poachers in Colorado and Utah illegally kill cougars that had been maimed to make them easier to shoot, then later helped the government prosecute his fellow defendants, has escaped prison time.

Nicholaus Rodgers' cooperation in the case and his acceptance of his role in the poaching ring in 2007-09 landed him a sentence of three years' probation Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Denver.

Six other wildlife charges filed against Rodgers in January 2014 were dropped as part of the agreement.

Rodgers pleaded guilty last fall to one count of violation of the Lacey Act, a felony, for joining a Colorado outfitter in helping clients poach bobcats and cougars, some of which were caged, ensnared and even wounded before their release so the clients could shoot them more easily, court documents state.

Rodgers originally faced as much as 41 months in federal prison for the crimes, but his lack of a criminal history as outlined in a pre-sentencing report dropped that sentence to 12 to 18 months, court documents show.

After federal authorities filed court papers outlining Rodgers' cooperation, federal probation officers did not object to the sentence of probation without prison time, court records show.

Rodgers' attorney Monday filed a report with the court stating that the married father of one daughter with a second daughter on the way is not the same man as the young, directionless one committing wildlife crimes eight years ago — crimes he now recognizes as cruelty to animals, the sentencing memorandum states.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch wrote in an October court document that Rodgers' "substantial assistance" in the case was enough for Hirsch to recommend less prison time.

The Lacey Act regulates illegal interstate hunting and trafficking of illegally obtained wildlife parts.

The poaching ring was broken up in 2009 through an undercover operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since then, Rodgers returned to the Shady Cove area and has worked in the same self-employed job for five years, the sentence memorandum states. His line of employment was not specified.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.