ANCHORAGE - An Alaska big game guide and his son face federal charges alleging they planted poison in moose carcasses to kill wolves.
An 18-count indictment handed down Wednesday in Anchorage also alleges the pair illegally allowed a client to shoot a bear the same day it was spotted from the air and let him shoot more moose than the law allowed. Some charges also name an assistant guide and a client.
"These types of activities affect the guiding industry as a whole, as well as Alaska's wildlife resources," said Steve Skrocki, assistant U.S. attorney.
The indictment names guide Kurt Lepping, 46, of Wasilla; his son Kyle Lepping, 28, also of Wasilla; assistant guide Brad Saalsaa, 32, of Ketchikan; and William Spann, 39, of White Bluff, Tenn.
The Leppings and Saalsaa are charged with federal conspiracy violations and other wildlife crimes during hunting seasons between 1996 and 1999.
All four are charged with violating the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits selling or transporting wildlife - or attempting to do so - in interstate commerce in violation of state wildlife law.
Spann is charged along with Kurt Lepping with violating the federal Airborne Hunting Act by attempting to shoot a wolf from a plane during a hunting trip in 1996. According to the indictment, Spann was a client of Lepping, owner of Alaska Brown Bear Safaris and Trophy Outfitters.
The defendants could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Brent Cole, an attorney representing Spann, and Jim McComas, Kurt Lepping's attorney, said their clients plan to plead innocent.
"We will see whether the government can prove their case because from what I can see, they have a hard row to hoe," Cole said. "It's the only case in history where no wolf was ever seen or shot or anything else. No wolf was taken over interstate lines."
Kurt Lepping is named in 14 counts. Prosecutors also are seeking forfeiture of his Piper Supercub, which they say was used to aid in the airborne hunting offenses.
The Leppings are accused of putting the pesticide aldicarb in moose carcasses to kill wolves during 1998 and 1999 hunts near the Dulbi River northeast of Galena.
Father and son also are charged with conspiracy to violate federal law by allowing Minnesota hunter Steve Hanson to exceed the legal sport-hunting limit of moose in September 1997.
Hanson, who paid $12,000 for the guiding service, was unhappy with the antler size on a bull moose he killed, so the Leppings let him shoot a second moose, according to the indictment. Kyle Lepping and Hanson then disposed of the antlers from the first moose, the indictment states.
The following year, Hanson paid $8,000 for a grizzly bear hunt guided by Kurt Lepping and Saalsaa. According to the indictment, Lepping spotted a grizzly as he flew over the area in his Supercub, landed and directed Hanson in killing the bear, a violation of Alaska's same-day airborne prohibition.
Hanson and other hunters named in the indictment have reached settlements, federal prosecutor Skrocki said.