A Utah man was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Reno for
illegally taking 124 Nevada bobcats and violating the Lacey Act, a
Federal law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have
been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.
Cole Steele, 34, of Santaquin, Utah, pled guilty to the misdemeanor
violation on March 5. He was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine and forfeited
106 bobcat pelts valued at approximately $38,000.
According to the guilty plea memorandum, during the 2004 Nevada
trapping season, Steele claimed to be a resident of Nevada and obtained
a trapping license. Trapping licenses for bobcats are only issued to
Nevada residents per state law. Steele had purchased a house in Nevada,
which he used as his address, but he actually maintained his residence
in Utah, thus disqualifying him for a Nevada trapping license. Steele
did comply with the law by having the pelts properly sealed by state
officials prior to removing them from Nevada. The defendant's father,
Alan Steele, operates a legitimate fur trading business in Utah and was
buying from his son.
According to investigators, the bobcat pelts were seized as they were
in the process of being shipped to lucrative fur markets across Europe.
"I have never seen a person create such a complicated scheme to
validate the unlawful commercial exploitation of wildlife and take
animals that belong to the people of Nevada," said Rob Buonamici, chief
game warden at the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). "If we hadn't
stopped this scheme, it would have led to the illegal deaths of hundreds
of more bobcats and realized hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit
profit for this criminal enterprise."
The conviction was the result of a joint investigation by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), NDOW and Utah Division of Wildlife
Resources. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney
Ronald C. Rachow.
"The successful culmination of this investigation was entirely due to
the investigative cooperative efforts by all of the agencies involved,"
said Ed Dominguez, Resident Agent in Charge, USFWS.
"This was the culmination of several hundred hours of investigation
by more than a dozen agents and game wardens across the country," said
Joe Maslach, a game warden and one of the key investigators on the case.
"The size and complexity of this illegal operation was very unusual, and
it took a lot of effort and coordination to stop this illegal
commercialization of wildlife."
NDOW reminds sportsmen to report poaching to Operation Game Thief at
1-800-992-3030. Sportsmen can learn more about the program at www.stoppoaching.org.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered
Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally
significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as
wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.