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MT - Two charged with running illegal hunting outfit

Two charged with running illegal hunting outfit
The Associated Press

BILLINGS — The owner of a national outfitting business has been charged with felony counts of unlawful possession of wildlife and outfitting without a license, Montana authorities said.

Dean Langton said Monday the case hinges on conflicting interpretations of Montana game law.

Langton, 39, owner of the Naples, Fla.-based PanAngling/PanHunting, was charged Nov. 20 after an undercover sting operation conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Also arrested were Tyler South, 33, of Naples, Fla., and seven hunters from Georgia. South was charged with the same two felony counts as Langton. The Georgia hunters face misdemeanor charges for retaining the use or services of an unlaw-ful outfitter.

“I have no idea how long they’ve been operating (unlawfully),” said Harold Guse, a warden captain for the department. “We have a lot to figure out yet.”

Langton, who has a ranch in the Big Timber area, said he believed he was operating lawfully because he had been hired by private landowners to book hunts on their property.

“I was told by Fish, Wildlife & Parks that in the state of Montana that you can guide on your own property or you can have an employee of the ranch guide,” Langton told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. “What the state is saying is that since I don’t draw a weekly paycheck, I’m not an employee.”

Langton said hunters paid an average of $2,500 for the trips, half of which went to the landowners. He said he took his profit after paying for expenses such as meals, lodging and transportation.

“I did this on a pretty small scale in Montana specifically to help out three or four ranchers,” with property in the Big Tim-ber area, Langton said. “Some of these landowners don’t have the expertise to conduct a hunt that would justify the type of funds that we can charge with our clientele.”

Langton and South were accused of being in possession of several unlawfully taken big game animals shot by themselves or clients. They also are accused of taking undercover investigators hunting without a license.

According to its Web site, PanAngling/PanHunting has been operating for 25 years as an adventure travel company with destinations around the world. The business was founded by Pat Galyan, an Indiana sporting goods retailer. Langton bought the outfitting business in 2001 after it went bankrupt.

“The commercial aspect is so involved,” Guse said. “It’s one of the more involved cases to try and figure out what all oc-curred.”

Jim Kropp, chief of law enforcement for FWP, said Langton is “definitely somebody we don’t want operating in this manner in Montana. The citizens of Montana don’t have to tolerate this level of abuse to our resources.”

Total restitution for the big game animals shot by Langton, South and those they guided was calculated at $19,100, FWP said.

“These guys were using landowner licenses as part of their scam,” Kropp said.

The Georgia hunters, who were fined $385, were identified as: Russell J. Rhoden, 33, of Reidsville, Ga.; Levi Harry Smith, 18, of Claxton, Ga.; Daniel Sikes, 36, of Claxton, Ga.; George B. Blocker, 44, of Glenville, Ga.; Lee H. Smith, 59, of Claxton, Ga; Louis H. Geiger, 65, of Glenville, Ga.; and Lee W. Burkhalter, 37, of Claxton, Ga.

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