GREAT FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said in a news release that a poaching investigation in northeastern Montana that lasted more than two and a half years ended with several men being sentenced last month.
The men were sentenced in the 16th Judicial District Court in Garfield County.
According to FWP, the case revealed evidence of at least 48 unlawfully taken game animals. Charges included: failing to wear hunter orange, shooting from the roadway, loan and transfer of hunting licenses, taking an overlimit of game animals, waste of game, possession of unlawfully killed deer and antelope, hunting during a closed season, hunting without a valid license, hunting without a valid permit, failure to tag, felony possession of wildlife and conspiracy to commit an offense.
The investigation centered on a hunting party led by Richard LeBlanc and their continued poaching activities on and around the Byron Kerr Ranch in Garfield and McCone counties. From 2005 to 2011, 31 citations were issued to LeBlanc and other members of his hunting parties for numerous violations. Additional information received in 2014 started the most recent investigation.
“The poachers targeted deer and antelope, but their main focus was the unlawful hunting of mule deer bucks in hunting district 652,” said Fish, Wildlife & Parks Criminal Investigator Steve Marx.
Mule deer bucks in HD 652 can only be hunted with a special permit obtained through the state’s drawing system.
LeBlanc and Marc Federico, of Rhode Island, Stephen Schenck, of Massachusetts, and William Mathews, of Florida, were sentenced January 11.
As part of a plea agreement, LeBlanc, Federico, Schenck and Mathews were jointly and individually ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution and received six-month suspended jail sentences.
LeBlanc’s hunting, fishing and trapping privileges were suspended for a period of 10 years while Federico, Schenck and Mathews’ privileges were suspended for eight, seven and two years, respectively.
In addition, Joseph Caetano, of Massachusetts, and Austin Bridwell, of Florida, both appeared and were sentenced earlier in the case. Caetano was ordered to pay $3,750, received a six-month suspended jail sentence and lost hunting fishing and trapping privileges for 10 years. Bridwell paid $1,400, received a 12-month suspended jail sentence and lost hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for two years.
All defendants will be entered into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. LeBlanc, Federico, Schenck, Mathews and Caetano can not accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping in Montana during their suspension periods.
“FWP enforcement’s excellent work and diligence resulted in the exposure of one of the most disturbing poaching cases in recent history,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Hank Worsech. “From initial investigations to sentencing, our wardens demonstrated their commitment to the stewardship and protection of Montana’s outdoor resources.”
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In addition to the individuals mentioned above, the investigation revealed other hunting parties were also committing violations on and around the Kerr Ranch. The following defendants were also apprehended and prosecuted during the operation.