Alaskan hunting guide serving 6-month prison sentence for ‘years-long wildlife crime spree’

Hunting guide Stephen Jeremy Hicks, left, with a moose that federal prosecutors say was killed during an illegal hunt in October 2017. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Alaska)

An Alaskan hunting guide is spending six months in an Oregon prison for illegally selling big game guiding services as well as multiple other offenses over a five-year period.

Stephen Jeremy Hicks, a 45-year-old Anchorage resident, was convicted in US District Court last month.

The jail sentence was part of a plea deal in which Hicks admitted guiding hunters on federal land on a sheep hunt near Max Lake on the west side of Cook Inlet in 2018 without a permit. In addition to the prison sentence, he agreed to give up a Piper PA-18 Super Cub and pay $13,460 in restitution.

Hicks’ attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, said his client began serving his prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon, in late July.

It is quite unusual for an Alaskan guide to be sentenced to prison for violating wildlife laws.

But in this case, federal prosecutors say, Hicks participated in a “year-long wildlife crime rush” from 2015 to 2019 that triggered the need for a harsh sentence, prosecutors wrote in a statement. sentence note earlier this year.

Many of the offenses he was charged with occurred while Hicks’ guide license was on probation or revoked.

State officials put his license on probation in 2016 for failing to provide contracts to customers before providing services and failing to maintain safe and satisfactory field conditions, according to the sentencing memo.

The license was permanently revoked in March 2019 by a state administrative law judge following complaints raised by a “completely miserable” hunting trip in October 2017, as the judge wrote in that case.

Last month’s federal sentencing focused on the 2018 Max Lake incident, but prosecutors during the sentencing phase referenced numerous other state-level charges against Hicks.

The state’s charges spanned a five-year period and included charges of wasting moose meat, failing to accompany customers, killing bears using bait to lure them and use of aircraft and electronic communications to locate big game.

State prosecutors dismissed those charges this month after the federal sentencing, according to Ron Dupois, an attorney with the Office of Special Prosecutions. That’s because the federal sentence used state charges for what’s called relevant conduct, Dupois said.

U.S. Chief District Judge Sharon L. Gleason considered the state’s charges in her sentencing decision and awarded half of the restitution to the state.

The federal sentence satisfied state sentencing goals, Dupois said. Hicks “didn’t have a plane, he didn’t have a guide license, he went to jail for six months”.

Gleason, during last month’s sentencing hearing in federal court, referenced the lack of investigative resources for wildlife protection, the fact that Hicks profited from his crimes, and the trust placed in big game guides by the state of Alaska, according to a U.S. attorney’s statement. Office in Anchorage.

The judge said “the need for the jail is to make it clear that flagrant disregard of state and federal fish and wildlife rules will not be tolerated.”

The 2017 hunt that led to Hicks’ license being revoked took place in the Cape Yakataga area between Cordova and Yakutat, along the rugged northern Gulf of Alaska coast.

Several of the patrons of this hunt told investigators they endured a soggy trip involving a filthy cabin with a flooded wood stove, rotting food and rodent droppings, and Hicks did not show up for several days. , leaving them to fend for themselves and clean up the mess, according to a 36-page decision document.

A brown bear that a client committed suicide on the beach was the only animal successfully harvested on the trip, according to the decision document. Another man shot and injured a goat while hunting with Hicks’ assistant guide. The guide, who led his client through difficult hunting terrain, said a steep ravine the animal ended up in was too dangerous to retrieve and “shot the goat” to get it out of its way. misery “.

Judge Cheryl Mandala in 2019 found that Hicks “failed to provide patrons with minimally adequate shelter, encouraged patrons to commit multiple violations of state hunting laws, and improperly engaged in same-day aerial hunting” — all on probation, she wrote in the decision to revoke the license.

The practice of guiding others without a license may be legal in so-called “buddy hunts”, where those involved agree to share the costs, but there is no official guide. .

Federal prosecutors, however, have listed a number of instances where it emerged that Hicks was being paid for services, drafting contracts and accompanying hunters in the field after his license was revoked.

Once released from prison, Hicks will remain on probation for three years. During this time, he is not permitted to fly a private aircraft or engage in commercial fighter activity in any capacity.

This story was originally published by the Anchorage Daily News and is republished here with permission.

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