DENVER – A man who was involved in a conspiracy to injure or trap bobcats and mountain lions in order to make them easier prey for hunters on guided trips has been sentenced for his role in the illegal acts, which included facilitating the transport of unlawfully killed animals across state lines.
According to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nicholaus Rodgers has been sentenced to six months of home confinement, a $5,000 fine, 50 hours of community service and three years of probation for violations of the Lacey Act—a federal law protecting wildlife. The assistant hunting outfitter and guide will be barred from hunting or fishing during his probation.
Rodgers was part of a scheme involving several other people, including his employer, in which a group was, “illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats in order to make taking the cats easier for paying clients.” He worked for Loncarich Guides and Outfitters, which operated primarily in the Book Cliffs Mountains along the Utah and Colorado border.
An investigation went back to 2004 and uncovered 18 clients who had taken part in the illegal killing of more than 30 mountain lions and bobcats.
“This is easily among the worst cases of illegal taking and poaching of wildlife I have seen in my 40-plus years in wildlife management,” stated Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in a press release.
Rodgers, Christopher Loncarich and others committed multiple state and federal violations during the 2007 to 2010 hunting seasons, and they had a scheme where the cats would be found prior to a client’s arrival, “and then ‘hindered’ or ‘shortened up’ to make it easier and quicker for their clients to kill the animals.”
Methods of hindering the cats included holding them in cages until the client arrived, or shooting the cats in the paws, stomach and/or legs to slow them down. Some cats had leg hold traps attached to them prior to the client arriving.
The press release states many of the clients who used the service lacked the legal tags to take a bobcat or mountain lion, and the hunting guide service allegedly helped to move the animals illegally across state lines. They also helped obtain seals for the animal pelts from Colorado officials using false information. Clients paid up to $7,500 for each “hunt”, and the funds were shared with Loncarich, Rodgers and other hunting guide assistants.
Rodgers admitted to personally helping clients kill 11 mountain lions and five bobcats during the course of the conspiracy.
Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholtzer, Fish and Wildlife Serve law enforcement, spoke about the crimes, which he said stemmed from greed.
“Many of the violations committed by Mr. Loncarich and Mr. Rogers appear to be the result of greed, unlawfully killing and maiming wildlife to increase his profits,” he stated in the press release. “The dedication and expertise of the state and federal investigators and prosecuting attorneys in bringing these persons to justice was outstanding. These convictions send a clear message that unlawful commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated.”
Loncarich, a 56-year-old man from Mack, Colorado, was sentenced last November in Denver for his role in the conspiracy, and he received 27 months in prison and 3 years of probation, during which he cannot fish and hunt. Others in the group, including Loncarich’s daughters, had previously pleaded guilty to violations of the Lacey Act or conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. Those others were sentenced to varying terms of probation and fines between $500 and $3,100.
Two trucks used in the scheme were seized during the investigation and forfeited to the government. So far, clients of the group have paid a total of $13,100 in fines for the illegal killings.