Guilty Plea in Mountain Lion Maiming Case

     (CN) - A Colorado big-game outfitter charged with maiming mountain lions and bobcats to make them easy prey for their hunting clients has pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge.
     Christopher Loncarich, 55, of Mack, Colo., pleaded guilty in Denver on Friday to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
     The Lacey Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell in interstate commerce any wildlife that has been taken or possessed in violation of state laws or regulations.
     According to 17-count indictment returned by a grand jury on Jan. 7, 2014, Loncarich conspired with others to illegally capture and maim mountain lions and bobcats as part of a scheme to make hunting the cats easier for their clients.
     The indictment claimed that Loncarich and his assistant, Nicholaus Rodgers, 30, of Medford, Ore., carried this scheme out from 2007 to 2010.
     In addition to acknowledging that he and his confederates trapped, shot and caged mountain lions and bobcats prior to hunts, prosecutors said Loncarich also admitted that he and his assistants guided several hunters who did not possess a Utah mountain lion or bobcat license on mountain lion or bobcat hunts in Utah.
     Federal prosecutors said the scheme allowed Loncarich to sell mountain lion hunts for between $3,500 and $7,500 and bobcat hunts for between $700 and $1,500. He allegedly shared a portion of the proceeds from successful hunts with his assistant guides.
     Rodgers and two other assistant guides have previously pleaded guilty to Lacey Act violations in connection with their guiding activities with Loncarich, the Justice Department said.
     The maximum penalty for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to a sentencing calculation pursuant to the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines but did not agree on a term of imprisonment, an amount of fines or an amount of restitution.
     A sentencing hearing for Loncarich is set for Nov. 20, 2014.