A federal grand jury has indicted a Newcastle ranching family on charges they participated in the illegal sale of landowner hunting licenses, newly unsealed court documents show.
The same grand jury indicted three other defendants on charges ranging from falsifying interstate game tags to helping transport illegally killed animals.
All six defendants appeared Monday in federal court in Casper, where they pleaded not guilty to the charges.
They remain free while awaiting trial, which is set for December.
The indictment, handed down last month but only made public Monday, offers few details about the defendants’ alleged crimes. Nor does it specify how the six are connected to one another.
The case originates from a lengthy undercover investigation that revealed a number of alleged wildlife violations, including those listed in the federal indictment, John Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming, wrote in an email.
Five defendants live in Newcastle. They are Donald Wayne Rawhouser; his sons, Timothy and Randy; James William Lewis; and Twylla Dean Napolitano. A sixth defendant, Rodney Muller, lives in Nebraska.
The grand jury charged Donald Rawhouser with selling landowner hunting licenses so that someone could illegally hunt elk. In separate charges, his sons are accused of trying to help him.
The allegations date back to 2010.
It’s illegal in Wyoming to sell a landowner license. They can be shared, but only with immediate family members, said Brian Olsen, Casper regional wildlife supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish.
The licenses are only available to people who meet certain criteria, including owning at least 160 acres. They offer one main advantage over a regular hunting license – lack of competition.
In certain areas with limited game quotas, tags might only be available to a fraction of the hunters seeking them. In contrast, there is usually no competition for landowner licenses.
Donald Rawhouser faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on all charges. His sons Timothy and Randy face maximum penalties for six and five years respectively.
The family members intend to defend themselves against the government’s allegations, their attorney said Tuesday.
“All three of them — Don, Timothy and Randy — have maintained their innocence from day one of this case,” said Julia Stancil, a Colorado lawyer who’s been retained by the family. “They look forward to their day in court and plan to prevail against the government.”
Stancil said she could not comment on the facts in the case because she hadn’t yet received background court documents from federal authorities.
The indictment alleges Lewis in the fall of 2008 attempted to help transport across state lines two animals that had been killed without a hunting license. One charge involves a pronghorn buck; the second is tied to a mule deer buck.
Authorities also suspect Lewis falsified Wyoming interstate game tags. Hunters are legally required to fill out the tags when they want to give parts of their kill to someone in another state, Olsen explained. Doing so creates a paper trail showing the animal was legally taken.
Lewis faces four charges that carry a combined penalty of up to four years in prison. His attorney, Nicholas Carter, said he couldn’t comment on the facts of the case because federal authorities hadn’t yet provided him with the grand jury transcripts and other documents. Carter did note the allegations date back five years.
“The facts are still a mystery to me and my client,” he said.
Lewis lives in Newcastle and is “vaguely familiar” with the other defendants in the case, Carter said. The lawyer did not know the extent of the relationship.
The indictment charges Muller with transporting a bull elk across states lines in 2009 with knowledge it had been poached. His attorney, Daniel Blythe, declined comment.
Napolitano also faces a single charge. She is accused of falsifying two Wyoming interstate game tags in November 2010.
Unlike the other defendants, Napolitano represented herself in court, records show.
She couldn’t be reached for comment.