A Utah man was sentenced on June 5 in U.S. District Court in Reno for illegally taking 124 Nevada bobcats and violating the Lacey Act, a Federal law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.
Cole Steele, 34, of Santaquin, Utah, pled guilty to the misdemeanor violation on March 5.
He was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine and forfeited 106 bobcat pelts valued at approximately $38,000.
One hundred six bobcat pelts taken illegally were seized by the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
According to the guilty plea memorandum, during the 2004 Nevada trapping season, Steele claimed to be a resident of Nevada and obtained a trapping license.
Trapping licenses for bobcats are only issued to Nevada residents per state law.
Steele had purchased a house in Nevada, which he used as his address, but he actually maintained his residence in Utah, thus disqualifying him for a Nevada trapping license.
Steele did comply with the law by having the pelts properly sealed by state officials prior to removing them from Nevada.
The defendant's father, Alan Steele, operates a legitimate fur trading business in Utah and was buying from his son.
According to investigators, the bobcat pelts were seized as they were in the process of being shipped to lucrative fur markets across Europe.
"I have never seen a person create such a complicated scheme to validate the unlawful commercial exploitation of wildlife and take animals that belong to the people of Nevada," said Rob Buonamici, chief game warden at the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). "If we hadn't stopped this scheme, it would have led to the illegal deaths of hundreds of more bobcats and realized hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit profit for this criminal enterprise."
The conviction was the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), NDOW and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"This was the culmination of several hundred hours of investigation by more than a dozen agents and game wardens across the country," said Joe Maslach, an NDOW game warden and one of the key investigators on the case. "The size and complexity of this illegal operation was very unusual, and it took a lot of effort and coordination to stop this illegal commercialization of wildlife."
NDOW reminds sportsmen to report poaching to Operation Game Thief at 1-800-992-3030.
Sportsmen can learn more about the program at www.stoppoaching.org.