NewsCrime Watch


FWP: Poachers to pay $50K after investigation into 48 illegally taken game animals

Director: It’s ‘one of the most disturbing poaching cases in recent history’
Posted at 8:35 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 12:17:15-05

Four poachers have been ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution and temporarily lost hunting privileges following an investigation that showed evidence of 48 illegally taken game animals, according to a news release Wednesday from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

FWP said the four men also are sentenced to six months of suspended jail time.

“The poachers targeted deer and antelope, but their main focus was the unlawful hunting of mule deer bucks in hunting district 652,” said FWP criminal investigator Steve Marx in a statement from FWP.

FWP said mule deer buck in that northeastern Montana district can only be hunted with a special permit.

In the news release, FWP said the investigation centered on a hunting party led by Richard LeBlanc and continued poaching activities on and around the Byron Kerr Ranch in Garfield and McCone counties. FWP said from 2005 to 2011, 31 citations were issued to LeBlanc and other members of his hunting parties.

LeBlanc and Marc Federico, of Rhode Island, Stephen Schenck, of Massachusetts, and William Mathews, of Florida, were sentenced Jan. 11 in Garfield County District Court following an investigation of two-and-a-half years, FWP said. According to the agency, LeBlanc’s hunting, fishing and trapping privileges were suspended for a period of 10 years while Federico, Schenck and Mathews’ privileges were suspended for eight, seven and two years, respectively.

“FWP enforcement’s excellent work and diligence resulted in the exposure of one of the most disturbing poaching cases in recent history,” said FWP director Hank Worsech in a statement. “From initial investigations to sentencing, our wardens demonstrated their commitment to the stewardship and protection of Montana’s outdoor resources.”

FWP said Joseph Caetano, of Massachusetts, and Austin Bridwell, of Florida, both were sentenced earlier in the case. Caetano was ordered to pay $3,750, received a six-month suspended jail sentence and lost hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for 10 years, FWP said; Bridwell paid $1,400, received a 12-month suspended jail sentence and lost hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for two years.

FWP said information in 2014 started the most recent investigation. FWP spokesperson Greg Lemon said the scope of the case is significant.

“This is pretty unusual for us,” Lemon said in a phone call. “When it comes to the scope, the number of people that were involved, the number of citations issued, and the impacts to wildlife — you’re talking about the number of animals involved here — it’s a pretty huge case for us.”


Lemon said the agency puts a lot of effort into such cases and criminals shouldn’t steal from Montana’s sportsmen and -women.

“In the United States, the wildlife is owned by the public, and when people go outside of regulations and laws and poach animals like this, in this case, they’re stealing directly from opportunities for law abiding hunters to take advantage of,” Lemon said.

FWP said the defendants will be entered into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact: “LeBlanc, Federico, Schenck, Mathews and Caetano cannot accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping in Montana during their suspension periods.”

FWP listed the following charges as ones included in the case: failing to wear hunter orange, shooting from the roadway, loan and transfer of hunting licenses, taking an overlimit of game animals, waste of game, possession of unlawfully killed deer and antelope, hunting during a closed season, hunting without a valid license, hunting without a valid permit, failure to tag, felony possession of wildlife and conspiracy to commit an offense.

“I’d like to thank all the officers that assisted with the case and the Montana Attorney General’s office for prosecuting the case,” Marx said.

FWP said the investigation revealed other hunting parties committing violations on and around the Kerr Ranch and said the following defendants were also apprehended and prosecuted during the operation: