Government keeps deer head mounted by Alabama poacher

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Government keeps deer head mounted by Alabama poacher .

By LORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff.

A wealthy Alabama hunter who pleaded guilty last year to federal poaching charges in Montana lost his battle to retrieve a whitetail deer head mount confiscated during the criminal investigation.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings ruled that Fredric Clark, 57, of Toney, Ala., would not get the trophy back.

The judge found that, contrary to Clark’s assertions, the animal “was taken in violation of Montana law in that it was tagged with another person’s license.”

“Clark is, therefore, not entitled to lawful possession of the deer," Cebull ruled.

Clark pleaded guilty in May 2000 to seven misdemeanor counts of improperly transporting game animals. He and six others, however, had originally been charged in a 28-count conspiracy indictment that contained a variety of poaching offenses.

Under a plea bargain reached with the government, he agreed to pay the largest fine ever imposed in Montana for wildlife violations – $50,000. He also agreed to pay another $50,000 in restitution.

During the course of the investigation, federal officers seized about 20 deer and antelope mounts from Clark. He petitioned for the return of one mount that he said he shot legally in 1997, and Cebull heard oral arguments in the case on Aug. 30.

The saga started around 1994, when Clark, co-founder of an engineering company that had multimillion-dollar contracts with the Department of Defense, hired outfitters and guides on hunting expeditions in Montana. The government maintained that, between 1994 and 1998, Clark spent nearly $60,000 on hunting trips for himself, as well as friends and relatives.

“They allowed him to shoot and kill whatever he wanted," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean said of outfitters and guides.

Investigators charged that, while in Montana, Clark and his associates hunted deer and antelope without a license, killed more animals than the limit allows and used tags not awarded to them, all in violation of Montana law. They also transported parts of illegally killed animals across state lines.

Many of the animals were mounted and shipped east.

After the dust settled in the case, Clark sought the return of the whitetail deer mount. He told the judge that, although he killed two deer that season – it was only the second kill that was illegal.

He maintained that the first animal he shot in 1997 was the whitetail and that it was properly tagged with the tag from his own license.

Clark’s attorney, Vern Woodward, argued that his client had not been charged with, nor had he pleaded guilty to any crime concerning that particular animal.

But the government countered that Clark was prohibited from taking more than one deer and was prohibited from attaching another person’s license to a deer Clark killed.

The government contends that Clark killed the whitetail buck first and used another person’s tag so he could continue to hunt with his own license. Then he killed a mule deer.

Cebull said he did not find Clark’s testimony credible, given his willingness to ignore game laws. He found in favor of the government, which will keep the mounted deer head.
 

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