A federal judge in Billings on Friday imposed hefty fines and probation and suspended hunting privileges for a father and son from Salem, Ore., who admitted running a poaching operation for five years at a Park County ranch.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull said big fines were needed to warn potential poachers what they face if they illegally take Montana wildlife.
Cebull fined Richard “Dick” Weiner, 73, $40,000, and his son, Richard “Matt” Weiner, 42, $20,000. The money will go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s hunters like you and your dad that give ethical hunters in the sport a bad name,” Cebull told Matt Weiner.
The judge said the Weiners had their own “poaching paradise” on land they leased at the Foster Ranch in the Shields Valley. The most “repugnant” part of the case, Cebull said, was when Matt Weiner and a client in 2009 killed two buck antelope, threw the first one in a gully because it was too small and took the second one back to Oregon.
Cebull called Dick Weiner “the driving force” behind the scheme, in which the Weiners charged friends and clients $1,500 to $2,500 to hunt on the ranch and used others’ tags or no tags on big game animals, including elk, deer and antelope.
The judge also sentenced both to three years of probation and ordered $20,000 restitution to be paid jointly. The restitution will go to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Cebull also banned the Weiners from hunting, fishing and trapping for life in Montana and from hunting for life anywhere in the world.
As a convicted felon, Dick Weiner also is prohibited from possessing firearms. The judge allowed Matt Weiner, who was convicted of misdemeanors, to have a shotgun for his hunting-dog training business.
Both men apologized and said they were embarrassed and ashamed.
Dick Weiner said he has never wasted or improperly tagged any animal he has killed. He asked for mercy, saying he was on Social Security and that the dog-training business he and his son have has suffered in the poor economy.
Matt Weiner said he realizes that he was stealing wildlife from Montana. At the time, he said, it “seemed OK and I know it wasn’t.”
Dick Weiner pleaded guilty in August 2011 to felony conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which regulates the interstate sale, transportation and purchase of wildlife.
Matt Weiner also pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy and four misdemeanor violations of the law.
At sentencing, Cebull allowed Matt Weiner to withdraw his plea on the felony and dismissed the count after the Weiners’ attorney, Brian Kohn of Billings, said he did a poor job representing the son. Matt Weiner didn’t realize he was pleading guilty to a felony until after his plea had been accepted, Kohn said.
Chad Murphy, FWP regional investigator, said the ranch’s owner was unaware of the illegal activities, but that the owner’s stepson and his wife, Brent and Jennifer Foster, were charged with state wildlife violations.
A third Oregon man, David “Bud” LaRoche, also was convicted of federal misdemeanors and is awaiting sentencing in federal court.