Man sentenced for ‘worst ever’ lion poaching schemes
GRAND JUNCTION — A man who was involved in an extensive lion and bobcat poaching scheme where more than 30 cats were illegally killed in western Colorado and eastern Utah was sentenced by the U.S. District Court in Denver on Wednesday.
Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 32, of Medford, Oregon, was one of a group of outfitters from Mack, Colorado who will serve 36 months of probation, six months of home confinement, 50 hours of community service and pay $5,000 in fines.
In August 2014, Rodgers pleaded guilty to violating several counts the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits the interstate transportation and sale of any wildlife taken in an illegal manner.
Rodgers, along with his accomplices, were the subjects of a three-year joint investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, beginning in 2007.
The details of the investigation revealed what one 44-year veteran of the agency called “the worst example of poaching he had seen in his career.”
According to indictments handed down in January 2014, Rodgers and his employer, outfitter Christopher W. Loncarich, 56, of Mack, daughters Caitlin and Andie Loncarich and assistant guide Marvin Ellis, conspired to capture and cage lions and bobcats.
They would hold the captured cats in leg traps or would wound them by shooting them in the foot or stomach. Their 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.
In one instance, the group collared a lion with a radio transmitter, recaptured it a year later, kept it in captivity for a week at Loncarich’s residence in Mack, then maimed it before releasing it near an out-of-state client.
Wildlife officers stress that the practice is not only illegal, it is highly unethical.
Investigators say that several of the cats killed in Utah were taken without licenses and then illegally transported to Colorado where the group falsified documents to obtain the required seals for the hides. The outfitter’s clients then transported the illegally taken cats back to their home states in further violation of the Lacey Act.
According to investigators, Loncarich charged 18 clients between $3,500 and $7,500 for each lion hunt and between $700 and $1,500 for each bobcat hunt, sharing his earnings with his assistants. More than 30 cats were killed in this manner, investigators said.
In December of 2014, Loncarich was sentenced to 27 months in prison, followed by three-years of probation for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act. Until his probation has been completed, he cannot hunt, pursue or trap any wildlife and must undergo substance abuse and mental health treatment while on probation.
Caitlin Loncarich pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and was sentenced for two misdemeanor Lacey Act violations on September 2014. She received one year of probation, a $1,000 fine as well as sixty hours of community service.
Also pleading guilty, her sister Andie Loncarich was sentenced on a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation, receiving one year of probation, a $500 fine and 36 hours of community service.
Ellis also pleaded guilty and on June 2013, he was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home detention and ordered to pay a $3,100 fine.
Loncarich’s 2008 Ford truck and Ellis’ 1995 Dodge truck were seized during the investigation, having been used in the commission of Lacey Act violations. Both vehicles were subsequently forfeited to the government. In addition, three of Loncarich’s clients were issued Lacey Act violation notices, paying a total of $13,100 in fines.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks the public to report possible wildlife violations to their nearest CPW office or Colorado State Patrol. To remain anonymous, call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards may be available if the report leads to a citation.