A multi-year, international investigation into illegal bear and goat hunts has resulted in the sentencing of a longtime big game guide from Haines.
Seventy-two-year-old Ronald Martin pled guilty and was sentence Tuesday in U.S. District Court after admitting to multiple illegal hunts, falsifying documents and importing illegally taken wildlife between Canada and the U.S.
Martin has been a big game guide in Haines for more than 30 years. On Thursday morning he was at a downtown bar discussing the case with friends and patrons, but he wouldn’t comment to KHNS for this story.
According to assistant U.S. attorney Jack Schmidt, the joint U.S. and Canada investigation was dubbed “Operation Bruin,” the Old English word for brown bear.
Law enforcement documented 10 illegal brown bear hunts, three illegal black bear hunts and four illegal mountain goat hunts. The violations involved Martin allowing his Canadian and U.S clients to take brown bears after illegally baiting them, hunting without proper licenses and failure to be present with the clients during some of the hunts.
Schmidt said it was also discovered Martin and his clients would then falsify records to smuggle wildlife hides, furs, horns and meat between the two countries. The violations spanned nine years, from 2002 through 2011.
Transporting illegally taken game across state and international borders triggers a violation of federal law, known as the Lacey Act. That’s when the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved, Schmidt said.
“The Lacey Act is to prevent the commercialization of wildlife trafficking. Lacey violations can occurred in several different ways. In this particular case there was underlying state law violations. When those state law violations include the trafficking of those illegally harvested wildlife then it becomes in the purview of the federal government,” Schmidt said.
Besides Martin, the investigation resulted in 17 Canadians being charged with 55 violations. Some of them have also been charged in the U.S., Schmidt said.
State law enforcement worked with federal and Canadian officials for several years, says Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen. She called it one of the most extensive wildlife investigations she has seen at the state level.
As many as 10 wildlife troopers from across the state worked on the case, including serving state and federal search warrants and conducting interviews in Alaska and the Lower 48.
“This was a big operation and the different federal, state and Canadian entities were pretty interwoven and worked well to put this together, because this was huge,” Ipsen said.
Martin was sentence to four years probation and fined $40,000.
During his probation he can’t hunt in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world for two years or provide any guiding- related services.
The investigation also brought about state charges.
As part of that conviction earlier this year, Martin forfeited his Piper airplane, a pickup, an ATV, several weapons and he surrendered his guide license for life.
Another Haines guide is also facing charges in the investigation. Martin’s half-brother, John Katzeek, and three of his Canadian clients have been indicted in U.S. District court also charged with conspiracy and smuggling violations related to illegal hunts. That case is ongoing.