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Florida man accused of cutting off elk legs with chain saw

November 10, 2010

Wildlife violations: Florida man accused of cutting off elk legs with chain saw Wildwood businessman James "Ike" Rainey, owner of the Rainey Construction Co.

A Central Florida construction company owner cut off the legs of a dead elk with a chainsaw for a photo opportunity while hunting in Montana, new documents allege.

Wildwood businessman James "Ike" Rainey, owner of the Rainey Construction Co., is one of eight defendants who were charged with felony poaching violations in Montana last week.

Rainey and Mark Morse, president and chief operating officer of The Villages retirement community 60 miles northwest of Orlando, are facing charges for illegally killing and possessing animals on their Montana ranches.

Rainey is accused of leaving wounded animals he hunted in the forest to die, chopping off their heads without harvesting the meat and sawing off the legs of a dead elk to position it better for a photo, according to affidavits from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Documents show Morse and Rainey told wildlife officials they had proper licenses to kill animals on their M Squared and Wolf Mountain ranches in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties.

Morse said he bought the land primarily for hunting.

But state officials found no licenses issued to the businessmen for the years the alleged violations took place.

The permits they did have, documents stated, were subject to restrictions and conditions Morse and Rainey failed to follow.

Rainey's Montana lawyer Mike Sherwood would not comment on the case but did say wildlife officials overstepped their boundaries.

"I consider it unethical for FWP to make those public statements. They are designed to influence the jury," he said. "I consider it a breach of ethics." A message for Morse was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Robert Gibson, a spokesman for the Montana wildlife agency, did not say what sparked the investigation but said people "involved with the family" divulged the information because they were uncomfortable with what was going on at the ranches.

But he would not provide details.

Former Florida Fish and Wildlife game warden Rick Staton, who was also charged with misdemeanor crimes relating to the case, was hired as the ranch manager in 2008 at Wolf Mountain Ranch - co-owned by Rainey and Morse.

Staton said he saw them overhunt dozens of bull elk and deer. He helped dispose of the animals after their heads were removed for mounting. Officials later found some of the body parts in the barn rafters.

In November 2008, Rainey shot a male elk and directed them to take it "up the hill with a four-wheeler," then cut the legs "with a chainsaw for better positioning of the elk for photographs," Staton said.

The elk meat was cleaned and chopped but later spoiled inside an unplugged freezer. Game wardens dug up holes on the ranches where the bones - specifically ribcages and spinal columns - had been buried.

"Most Montana hunters find it totally egregious to waste the meat," Gibson said. "Most people in Montana eat what they kill."

Hunters can bring game meat to local processing plants in Montana that will clean, cut, and freeze it for a nominal fee, he said. The meat is then donated to local food banks for the hungry.

Rainey is accused of breaking the law after leaving an animal he wounded to die in the woods, Gibson said. Witness statements also allege he chopped off the head and the left the carcass of another elk he killed with an arrow.

"You are supposed to make every attempt to find game that is wounded and humanely kill it to save the meat," Gibson said. "In addition to being illegal, it's really unethical. It's a really a big no-no for hunters."

Wolf Mountain ranch manager Toby Lee Griffith, who was also charged in the case, said he found the decomposing bodies eaten by animals after arguing with Rainey about the killings. He told officials he was "disgusted" with Rainey and supplied investigators with evidence of the incident including photographs and the bloody arrow.

Attorney Mark Parker said the agency is exaggerating the case beyond the facts.

"You get more press for a dead elk than you do a dead baby around here," Parker said, who is representing Griffith. "More animals were killed on the road during this conversation than on these ranches."

He said the Montana's hunting rules change so often from district to the district that "it's not hard to find yourself in a technical violation."

Investigators seized photographs, trophy mounts, rotting meat, and carcasses from the two properties as evidence in the case that could cost the Morse family and Rainey hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, possible prison time, and a loss of hunting and fishing privileges, officials said.

Morse alone faces 21.5 years in prison and $203,000 in fines if convicted. Rainey faces a fine of $53,000 and more than five years in prison.

Others charged include Lenard Lee Powell, president of LPI Curb Service, a concrete construction company that does work at The Villages and David Duncan, a hunting outfitter that sold licenses to the Morse family and friends.

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