By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA -- A federal judge has sent two Texas brothers to prison for what prosecutors say may have been the largest deer poaching operation in Kansas history.
James Bobby Butler Jr., the owner and operator of Camp Lone Star near Coldwater was sentenced Monday to 10 months and has already paid a $25,000 fine. His brother, Marlin Jackson Butler, who worked as a guide, received an eight-month prison sentence with no fine. They must also serve three years of supervised release after they get out of prison.
"While certainly not the most serious violations I have seen, they are serious," U.S. District Judge Monti Belot told the men. "This was a business proposition, and it was a profitable operation."
Belot also prohibited James Butler, who owns a hunting operation in Texas, from guiding hunters for one year of his probationary period. As convicted felons, neither man can possess a firearm.
Prosecutors said the Butlers sold guided deer hunts in Kansas for hunters from Texas and Louisiana, charging them about $3,500 for archery hunts and $5,000 for rifle hunts. Their clients were encouraged to kill deer illegally, sometimes without a license or in excess of the bag limit. Some deer were spotlighted at night, others shot with a gun during archery season.
"You knew this was a crime, you knew this was wrong," Belot said.
The brothers, from Martinsville, Texas, admitted in 2011 to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the interstate transport of any wildlife taken in violation of state regulations. The brothers, both from Martinsville, Texas, pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and one felony count of violation of the Lacey Act.
James Butler also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for ordering an employee at the High Roller Whitetails, a deer operation in Center, Texas, to get rid of several white-tailed deer mounts after wildlife officers began conducting interviews in Texas regarding the federal investigation. The employee refused to destroy the mounts.
James Butler told the court that since the investigation started, he has had plenty of time to think about all the hurt he has caused his family and friends: "I cannot begin to describe the regret that I have felt," he said.
Marlin Butler declined to make a courtroom statement.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its decision last year, said the district court made a mistake in 2011 in calculating sentences based on the full price of a guided hunt, rather than the actual retail value of the animals.
But Belot said he was not satisfied with the reliability of the evidence prosecutors presented about the value of the deer at Monday's re-sentencing hearing. The judge therefore determined the value of the illegally taken deer at zero, which then factored into a lower federal guideline sentence.
The prison sentences handed down are far below the initial sentences the men were given in 2011 by the late U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown that the appeals court threw out when it sent the case back for re-sentencing. Brown had initially given James Butler a 41-month sentence and Marlin Butler a 27-month sentence.