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MT: Florida man resolves some poaching charges

Florida man resolves some poaching charges

February 9, 2011

A former Florida game agent charged in a Montana poaching case has resolved some of the charges against him by forfeiting bond.

Richard "Rick" Staton, who is expected to be a key witness in the cases against five other Florida residents, a Montana man and a Utah outfitter, has paid a total of $775 in fines and court fees to resolve misdemeanor charges in Big Horn County Justice Court of illegal use of a hunting license and unlawful possession of a game animal.

Staton remains charged in Yellowstone County Justice Court with one count of illegal use of a hunting license, but court officials said he has indicated he will also forfeit bond in that case.

Staton is one of eight people charged in what state authorities describe in court records as an extensive list of alleged big game violations over a three-year period by family members and business partners of a wealthy Florida developer.

Among other allegations, the defendants are accused of killing trophy elk and deer without valid licenses. In several alleged incidents, game animals were killed and not retrieved or the meat allowed to rot. According to court records, during one such hunt a chainsaw was used on the carcass of a bull elk to position it for a picture.

The developer, Mark Gary Morse, is charged in Big Horn County District Court with two felony counts of unlawful possession of a game animal and one count of accountability for hunting without a license. Morse is the president and chief operating officer of The Villages, an exclusive retirement community near Orlando. He also is the owner and co-owner of two large ranch properties in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties.

Mark Morse, 50, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A scheduling conference in the case is set for next month.

Morse's wife, M'Lissa Morse, and their daughter, Kelsea Louise Morse, are facing misdemeanor charges in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties.

M'Lissa Morse is accused of unlawful possession of a buck mule deer, and her trial is currently scheduled for March 17 in Big Horn County Justice Court.

Kelsea Morse is charged in Yellowstone County Justice Court with two misdemeanor counts of hunting elk and turkey without a license. A jury trial in that case has been set for April 15.

James Ike Rainey, 51, owns a construction company that does work in The Villages and is also charged in the case. Rainey is a co-owner with Mark Morse of a ranch that straddles Yellowstone and Big Horn counties where many of the alleged poaching incidents took place.

Rainey is charged with four hunting-related offenses in Big Horn County District Court, including a felony count of unlawful possession of a game animal. He faces two misdemeanor counts of waste or abandonment of a game animal and a third misdemeanor of hunting without a license.

Stanton's Florida attorney has filed numerous briefs in the case since the charges were filed in October, including a motion to require Montana to reimburse his client for costs associated with ensuring a fair trial in light of public statements made about the case by a spokesman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. That motion has since been tabled, and a status hearing in the case has been scheduled for Feb. 24.

Another business associate of Morse, 52-year-old Lenard Lee Powell, also of Florida, has been charged in Big Horn County District Court with a felony count of unlawful possession of a game animal.

Staton, who is described in court records as a former Florida game warden, and another defendant, Toby Griffith of Montana, were hired by Morse and Rainey to manage their Montana properties, according to the records. Both men gave extensive statements to Montana investigators and witnessed many of the alleged hunting violations, court records indicate.

Griffith is charged in Yellowstone County District Court with one felony count of unlawful possession of a game animal and a misdemeanor count of illegal use of a hunting license. His trial is set for April 4.

The last defendant in the case is David Duncan, an outfitter from Utah who is charged in Lewis and Clark County with illegally transferring his outfitter license for use by Morse and Rainey.

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