“The defendant has a reputation as a family man and a good member of the community. He violated the tenants of ranching and there is proof of negligence and poor ranch management, which are also crimes under Colorado law, but I do not believe he has to go to prison to send a message.”
— Senior judge David Lass, who presided over the cattle rustling trial of Monty Luke Pilgrim
Monty Luke Pilgrim, 52, of Little Snake River, was sentenced Thursday in Moffat County District Court on cattle rustling charges.
Senior judge David Lass, who presided over the trial, handed down the sentence for the 15 felony counts against Pilgrim.
The sentence included three years of supervised probation; 50 hours of useful community service for each year of probation for a total of 150 hours; letters of apology to the five of nine victims he was convicted; payment of restitution, fines and court costs of more than $14,000; and incarceration of 90 days at the Moffat County Jail.
Pilgrim was ordered to begin serving his jail time Oct. 1.
“I respect the sentence of the court, but obviously I disagree because I argued for more,” said Han Ng, who prosecuted Pilgrim and was recently promoted to assistant district attorney for the 14th Judicial District. “I see why the judge sentenced (Pilgrim) the way he did, I’m glad there was a conviction and I’m glad there was at least a little bit of punishment.”
Pilgrim was convicted by jury in July on five counts of theft of agricultural animals, a Class 4 felony; five counts of concealing strays, a Class 6 felony; and five counts of wrongful branding, a Class 6 felony.
Pilgrim faced a total of 27 felony convictions, broken up among the three felony charges, representing nine alleged victims in the case.
The jury found Pilgrim guilty on charges against five of the nine area ranchers.
Before the sentence was announced Ng argued for 10 years in the Department of Corrections, two years each for the five felony 4 convictions to run consecutively.
Ng compared the case to white-collar insider trading crimes more common to New York City skyscrapers and argued a probation sentence would send a message to the public that the Moffat County community considers cattle rustling about as serious as a driving under the influence conviction.
But Grand Junction attorney Ed Nugent, who represents one half of Pilgrim’s defense counsel, argued in favor of probation considering his defendant has no prior criminal record.
Pilgrim’s second defense attorney, Kris Hammond of Steamboat Springs, was unable to attend the sentencing because he was busy with another case in Boulder, Nugent said.
Over the course of the hearing, which lasted almost two hours, Nugent paraded a total of six Colorado and Wyoming residents, including Pilgrim’s wife, Michelle, who spoke to the testament of the defendant’s character and asked the court for leniency.
Lass sided with the latter.
During his sentencing remarks, Lass cited Colorado statutes that dictate certain considerations a judge must abide by outside of punishment, including rehabilitation, deterrents for future offenders, comparable sentences from similar cases, promoting a sense of responsibility for what one has done and the sentencing of the individual.
“The defendant has a reputation as a family man and a good member of the community,” Lass said. “He violated the tenants of ranching and there is proof of negligence and poor ranch management, which are also crimes under Colorado law, but I do not believe he has to go to prison to send a message.”
After the hearing Nugent said he was pleased with the court’s determination.
“The sentence doesn’t surprise me, of course we are disappointed about the convictions, but I think it’s an appropriate sentence considering all of the factors the judge pointed out,” he said. “Certainly Monty has no prior record and this is something where he recognizes the impact to the community.”
Both Pilgrim and Michelle declined to comment after the sentencing.
More than 60 people attended Thursday’s hearing and the crowd was significantly weighted to the side of the defense, but not all were satisfied with the sentence.
“It’s unfortunate that cattle theft is thought of as being less of an offense than stealing a car these days,” said John Wiebel, one of the five area ranchers Pilgrim was found guilty of victimizing.
Though Wieble was angry about the sentence, some of the investigators on the case were able to paint the outcome in a positive light.
“I’m glad the case was brought to the courts and there was a conviction,” said Gary Nichols, livestock investigator with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office. “I’m glad this case has brought some awareness to the ranching community that we are watching and this will not be tolerated.
“If there is another case like this we’ll work it, we’ll investigate it and we’ll make sure it gets to the D.A.’s office.”
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.