A Colorado outfitter who maimed and killed more than 30 mountain lions and bobcats, including animals from southeastern Utah, was sentenced to prison Thursday.
Christopher W. Loncarich of Mack, Colo., was sentenced to 27 months in prison and three years probation for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife conservation law.
Loncarich, his two daughters and an assistant violated numerous state and federal laws between the 2007 and 2010 hunting seasons, according to a release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As part of his outfitting business, 56-year-old Loncarich would trap lions and bobcats prior to his clients' hunts and hold them or injure them by "shooting the cats in the paws, stomach, and/or legs, or attaching leg-hold traps prior to the client arriving on scene," the release states.
Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources cooperated in the investigation.
A Utah conservation officer first raised suspicions about Loncarich after encountering the Colorado man near the state line at the south end of the Book Cliffs, according to Tony Wood, law enforcement chief for DWR.
Utah investigators suspect as many as 50 bobcats were illegally killed in the state and transported dead to Colorado. And Wood said his agency is confident at least 12, and as many as 15, mountain lions were killed in Utah.
"The code of fair chase is something those of us lawful and ethical hunters live by and it means a lot to us," Wood said. "He was not a hunter, but a businessman, who took great pains and went to great lengths to make a buck."
Colorado wildlife officials reported that Loncarich's group captured a mountain lion and put a radio-tracking collar on the animal. They used the tracking device to catch the animal a year later, eventually caging the cat at a house in Mack, Colo., where it was held for a week while Loncarich waited for a client to arrive from Missouri. The lion ultimately was transported on a snowmobile and released for the hunter.
Fish and Wildlife Service investigators say Loncarich charged up to $7,500 for lion hunts.
Loncarich and his assistant, Nicholaus Rodgers of Medford, Ore., were indicted on 17 counts of illegally capturing and maiming mountain lions and bobcats.
The joint investigation found approximately 18 clients had taken part in the illegal killing of more than 30 wild cats.
"Many of the violations committed by Mr. Loncarich appear to be the result of greed, unlawfully killing and maiming wildlife to increase his profits," said Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholtzer, who oversees U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement operations in the Mountain-Prairie region. "These convictions, and those to follow, send a clear message that unlawful commercialization of wildlife will not be tolerated."
Many of Loncarich's clients did not have tags or licenses for Utah and sneaked the illegally killed animals into Colorado using coded language during radio communication to keep from being caught.
Loncarich admitted to personally assisting clients in unlawfully killing 15 mountain lions and four bobcats.
"Hunting is a wildlife management tool and where all these animals were coming out of Utah and being checked unlawfully and fraudulently in Colorado, that erodes the ability of the states to manage lions and bobcats," Wood said.
Rodgers, who pleaded guilty, will be sentenced Jan. 6, 2015. Another assistant, Marvin Ellis, was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home detention and fined $3,100.
Loncarich's daughters, Caitlin and Andie, also were involved. Caitlin Loncarich was sentenced to two misdemeanor Lacey Act violations and received one year of probation, a $1,000 fine and 60 hours of community service. Andie Loncarich was sentenced on a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation and received one year of probation, a $500 fine and 36 hours of community service.
Three of Loncarich's 18 clients also were issued federal Lacey Act violations and paid a total of $13,100 in fines.