A big game guide from Haines was sentenced Tuesday in Juneau federal court for wildlife violations dating back to 2002 that involved the illegal taking and importation of wildlife and false labeling.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska announced that Haines resident Ronald L. Martin, 72, pled guilty to five felony counts of violating the Lacey Act and admitted to multiple illegal hunts, falsification of numerous documents and the importation of wildlife from Canada into the United States.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess fined Martin $40,000 and placed him on probation for four years. While on probation, Martin will be prohibited from hunting in the United States and he will be banned from hunting anywhere in the world for two years. The plea deal reached with federal prosecutors, which was accepted by the judge on Tuesday, also requires Martin to forfeit all illegal wildlife seized in the years-long investigation, plus a 27-foot trailer that was used to illegally import wildlife.
In an interview Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt told the Empire that Martin has already been convicted and sentenced in state court for the offenses. He said the case rose to the federal level in part because Martin was illegally transporting wildlife across state lines. The federal Lacey Act of 1900 prohibits the trafficking of wildlife, plants and fish.
In state court, Martin previously pled guilty to one count of baiting brown bears while guiding clients, and one count of guiding clients over an unregistered bear site, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage. As part of that conviction, Martin was fined $40,000 with $30,000 suspended and ordered to forfeit the following items: a PA-18 Piper Supercub airplane, a F-250 Ford pickup truck, a Honda ATV and a Kimber .338-caliber rifle with a Leopold scope. Martin’s hunting license was also revoked until May 2016, and he is prohibited from guiding, outfitting or transporting hunters, and is not allowed to accompany or assist hunters in the field. He is further prohibited from acting as a consultant, expediting, booking or renting hunting equipment and cannot apply for a hunting license until 2018. He was required to surrender his guide license for life.
Schmidt said the case against Martin was jointly investigated by U.S. and Canadian authorities in what has been dubbed “Operation Bruin,” an ongoing effort that has resulted in criminal charges against multiple U.S. and Canadian citizens. On the Canadian side, 17 people have been charged since November 2012.
The investigation in Martin’s case documented 10 illegal brown bear hunts, three illegal black bear hunts and four illegal mountain goat hunts totaling a value of about $189,000, according to the release. The release states Martin allowed his Canadian and U.S. clients to take brown bear over bait, hunting without the required licenses or tags and the failure to have a licensed guide with the non-resident alien clients during guiding hunts. Prosecutors said Martin and his clients would file false documents to conceal the illegal nature of the guided hunts and would then smuggle the wildlife from the U.S. to Canada, in violation of the Lacey Act but also Canada’s Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act. The violations took place between May 2002 and November 2011, in and around Haines.
The prepared statement from prosecutors also said the investigation revealed Martin illegally imported Dall sheep from Yukon, Canada, into the U.S. during the fall of 2011 by failing to obtain a Yukon Wildlife Export permit and illegally smuggled the sheep horns from Canada into the U.S. by concealing the horns and meat in his trailer.
The release states two of Martin’s clients from Canada, brothers Lyle and John (Jack) Whitmarsh, have already been convicted and sentenced in connection to the case.
Another big game guide from Haines, John Katzeek, and three of his Canadian clients were recently indicted for violating the Lacey Act in connection to illegally taking and smuggling Alaska big game animals. Prosecutors said that was also a part of Operation Bruin.