Man involved in mountain lion maiming scheme admits guilt | CraigDailyPress.com

Man involved in mountain lion maiming scheme admits guilt

Last defendant in Utah and Colorado poaching operation pleads guilty

Patrick Kelly

This photo of a female mountain lion, which was not involved in the poaching operation, was taken near Maybell.

The last of six defendants in a poaching scheme that involved maiming mountain lions and transporting them across state lines pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on April 6.

Nathan Simms, 31, of Grand Junction, will face sentencing in June for eight misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act, a federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation and sale of any wildlife taken illegally.

According to a news release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde said it was one of the worst cases of poaching he has seen in his 40-plus-year career.

Simms was employed by Christopher Loncarich, owner of a now defunct outfitting operation in Mack, west of Grand Junction.

In 2014, Loncarich was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and three years of probation after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act.

Loncarich and his assistant, Nicholaus J. Rodgers, of Medford, Oregon were originally indicted by a grand jury on 17-counts of illegally trapping and maiming mountain lions and bobcats.

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"According to the indictments, between 2007 and 2010, Loncarich, aided by his daughters Caitlin and Andie Loncarich, assistant guide Marvin Ellis and Rodgers, conspired to capture lions and bobcats then cage them, hold them in leg traps or shoot them in the foot or stomach," states a CPW news release from 2014.

The captured cats would then be released as easy targets for Loncarich's clients, who were paying between $3,500 and $7,500 to kill the animals.

“The goal was to make the cats easier for their clients to kill during excursions along the rugged Book Cliff Mountains in western Colorado and eastern Utah,” according to CPW news release.

Investigators say approximately 30 cats were killed in this manner.

“This was not hunting — it was a crime,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “It was cruel to the animal and contrary to what an ethical, legal hunt should be."

Rodgers also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and was sentenced 36 months of probation, six months of house arrest, 50 hours of community service and $5,000 in fines.

Both men also received a lifetime suspension of their hunting and fishing privileges after a hearing with CPW officers.

In 2013, Ellis pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, receiving three years of probation, six months of house arrest and a $3,100 fine.

Loncarich's daughters, Caitlin and Andie, were punished for their role in the scheme as well.

Caitlin received one year of probation, a $1,000 fine and 60 hours of community service after admitting to two misdemeanor violations. Andie pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year of probation, a $500 fine and 36 hours of community service

CPW revoked Caitlin's fishing and hunting privileges for 20 years. Andie and Ellis each received 15-year suspensions.

In Simms' plea agreement, a six-month prison sentence is recommended for his role in the crime. He also faces lifetime suspension of his hunting and fishing privileges.

“We want to make it clear to anyone that chooses to ignore our laws that we take wildlife violations very seriously and our officers will do what it takes to bring them to justice,” said Velarde. “Criminals involved in this activity can face significant penalties from the courts, which is appropriate when you consider how unethical and destructive poaching is to wildlife.”

CPW spokesman Mike Porras said one of the primary ways poachers are caught is through tips from civilians and he would encourage all Coloradans to report any potential crimes.

"Wildlife belongs to the people of Colorado," he said. "If they know of a wildlife violation, if they know of poaching activity, those poachers are stealing that wildlife from ethical hunters and from the people of Colorado."

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.