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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Men to appeal poaching convictions

BY RON SYLVESTER
The Wichita Eagle

The second of two brothers was sentenced Friday for running an illegal deer hunting operation.

U.S. Senior District Judge Wesley Brown sentenced Marlin Butler to 2 1/4 years in prison and $20,000 in fines and restitution in what U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Kansas game wardens think is the largest trophy-deer poaching case in U.S. history.

Earlier this week, his brother, James Butler, received a sentence of just under 3 1/2 years in prison and penalties of $50,000.

Both men have indicated they will appeal their sentences. Brown postponed sending the brothers to prison pending the outcome of their appeals.

Prosecutors say the Butlers, from Martinsville, Texas, ran an operation that included the poaching of about 120 deer by about 60 clients at Camp Lone Star, a southwest Kansas outfitting business near Coldwater. The camp catered to out-of- state clients hoping to bag a trophy buck.

Marlin Butler, 36, worked as a guide at the camp. He and his brother pleaded guilty in March to helping clients illegally poach 25 whitetail bucks. Marlin Butler also pleaded guilty to encouraging and assisting a client to hunt with a rifle during the archery deer season. He also illegally used a spotlight to illuminate a large buck so it could be shot after legal shooting hours by that client.

Because most of the poached deer were transported across state lines, the Butlers and their clients violated the federal Lacey Act, a felony crime.

Roger Falk, Marlin Butler's attorney, argued that sentencing enhancements for his client were miscalculated because of how the deer were valued.

Federal law allows for sentences to be increased when the crime surpasses $70,000. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Treaster valued the deer at $120,000, based on the amount clients paid to illegally hunt deer at the camp.

Falk argued that Kansas law valued deer at $1,000 each, which would bring the amount down to $25,000. But Brown cited federal case law that allows the value to be determined by what the clients paid.

Brown ordered Marlin Butler to pay $10,000 in fines to the federal government and $10,000 in restitution to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. After serving the prison sentence, Butler will have to report to a probation officer for three years.

The judge prohibited him from hunting, fishing or traveling for any wildlife activities while under supervision of the U.S. probation office.

Marlin Butler declined to make any statements during his sentencing.

Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or rsylvester@wichitaeagle.com.

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