Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2005



Source/Letters: The Portland Oregonian [email protected]  [email protected]  

From: Merritt Clifton [email protected]  

Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2005 08:58:02 -0800
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Poaching allegations add to hotelier's troubles

Police accuse Shilo Inns founder Mark Hemstreet and six others of state game violations at his Eastern Oregon ranch


Oregon State Police have cited hotel magnate Mark Hemstreet and a cadre of family and friends with 30 wildlife crimes and violations, among them illegally killing four elk and a black bear last fall on Shilo Ranch, Hemstreet's massive spread near Wallowa.

Hemstreet's friend Gregg Clapper, a 54-year-old Republican strategist known for his aggressive media campaigns, also was cited after a two-month investigation. Troopers searching Clapper's Portland home before Christmas found a small amount of marijuana and four pipes, according to court papers...

Hemstreet founded Shilo Inns and became an influential player in Oregon's conservative politics in the 1990s. He also is known for his philanthropy, once offering to cover a life-saving transplant for a McMinnville teenager.

Some of Hemstreet's hotels went into bankruptcy in 2002 but emerged a year later in a reorganization.

State police said Hemstreet was cited with several misdemeanors, including unlawfully taking a bull elk without a valid tag, aiding in a game violation, loaning a big-game tag, borrowing a big-game tag and falsely applying for resident-of-Oregon hunting licenses while living in California the past five years, records show.

"We view poachers as thieves," Capt. Bruce Carne, director of the state police Fish and Wildlife Division told The Oregonian on Tuesday. "We think people who violate game laws -- who know what the law is -- are stealing from other hunters and citizens of the state."

Hemstreet's lawyer, Rahn Hostetter of Enterprise, said many of the accusations in a police affidavit describing the investigation are "absolutely not true" and based on hearsay.

Especially troubling, Hostetter said, was the charge that Hemstreet wrongly obtained an Oregon hunting license while living in California. He said Hemstreet pays resident income taxes in Oregon, has a driver's license in the state and has never applied for a residential license anywhere else.

The allegations are the latest controversy involving Hemstreet in scenic Wallowa County, where his ranch sprawled across 9,200 scenic acres, according to a 1996 estimate.

Neighbors were angered in 2001, when the 54-year-old hotelier proposed to swap a small patch of land in the Eagle Cap Wilderness for as many as 2,500 acres of federal forest holdings around his Shilo Ranch. Years earlier, protests greeted Hemstreet's effort to close a popular road through his ranch.

Also cited in the game case were Hemstreet's wife, Shannon; son, Brian; daughter, Staci McDonald; and two associates, Clapper and David Forni. State police say all the citations, aside from Clapper's ticket citing marijuana possession, are Class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of as long as one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

Clapper, who has run advertising campaigns for dozens of conservative ballot measures over the years, did not return calls seeking comment.

Hostetter said citations had been issued to seven people named in the state police affidavit. But only one of them, Gordon L. Caudle of Hillsboro, has been charged so far. Caudle faces one count of borrowing a bull elk tag and two counts of unlawfully taking a bull elk without a valid tag.

Hostetter said that if charges are filed against any of the others he expects to represent them, at least initially. Citations generally are followed by formal charges.

Hostetter criticized the extensive investigation of Shilo Ranch hunters -- which included searches of four dwellings on both sides of the Cascades -- as an unusual way to spend the state's limited law enforcement funds. He said police planted a decoy of a bull elk to entrap Shilo Ranch hunters in hopes of catching Hemstreet's friends and family.

"They warned non-Shilo hunters there was a decoy up ahead," Hostetter claimed. "That just reveals who they were after."

Wallowa County District Attorney Dan Ousley declined to comment on specifics of the case until he has seen all the state police citations and investigative reports.

However, Ousley acknowledged that he had talked with police about their investigation and was aware that Mark Hemstreet -- "a sometime resident around here" -- was a possible defendant.

Authorities say it's unlikely any of the seven people would serve jail time if convicted because none has previous game violation convictions.

The case began on a Sunday afternoon in November, when state police troopers Bradley J. Duncan and Bill Ables met with Shilo Ranch guest Gordon Caudle on Powwatka Ridge, deep in the heart of Wallowa County.

The troopers, both assigned to the state police Fish and Wildlife Division, were tipped to alleged hunting violations at the ranch by an informant.

Duncan and Ables questioned Caudle about four dead elk in the bed of his gray Ford pickup. About that time, a sport utility vehicle pulled up.

Hemstreet's son, Brian, 32, climbed out.

The troopers found it odd that one of the dead elk bore a game tag with the name David V. Forni, who was not part of the hunting party.

Trooper Duncan called Forni's cell phone from the spot and asked about the tag. Forni acknowledged that Caudle, 38, had used his game tag to validate an elk and that he knew it was wrong, according to the search warrant affidavit filed by Duncan in Wallowa County Circuit Court.

The troopers then questioned Caudle, according to the affidavit.

"Caudle said he knew it was against the law to shoot someone else's elk and borrow their tag to validate it," Duncan wrote. "He said it was the 'Shilo Way' and has been for some time. He explained that this is Mark Hemstreet's way of doing things. . . . Mr. Caudle also explained that there is a 'pot' of tags at the Shilo Ranch, and those tags are used to validate the animals killed at the ranch."

To lawfully kill elk and other big-game animals in Oregon, a hunter must have a valid hunting license and pay a fee for tags. Hunters are not allowed to give their tags to others.

According to the affidavit, Caudle told the troopers that tags obtained by Hemstreet's 38-year-old wife, Shannon, also were part of the "pot" of tags.

Caudle also said he had heard that Shannon Hemstreet had killed an elk during the first bull elk season of 2004. But, according to Duncan's affidavit, "Caudle advised us that Shannon doesn't hunt and wouldn't know which end of the gun to point to shoot something."

At least one trooper, Mark Knapp, had an inside look at the doings at Shilo Ranch, the affidavit said.

Knapp was off duty in October, when he and his family stayed in a guest house at the invitation of Brian Hemstreet. One night, Knapp told investigators, he witnessed two men with blood on them, one of whom said Brian Hemstreet had shot a bear.

Trooper Ables later questioned Mark Hemstreet about the incident. According to the affidavit, Mark Hemstreet told Ables he had learned from his son that he killed a bear, discovered he didn't have a bear tag and went back to the ranch to get Shannon Hemstreet's bear tag.

When police searched Brian Hemstreet's home Nov. 20, he turned over a bear skull and corroborated his father's account, the affidavit says. Brian acknowledged tagging the bear with Shannon Hemstreet's bear tag and said his stepmother had yelled at him when he told her what he had done, the affidavit says.

State police searched the Shilo Ranch, seizing bear and elk meat. They looked for evidence that hunting guests of the Hemstreets had pooled tags for the animals they killed. They found eight empty license holders, but the only tags they found belonged to Mark Hemstreet and were on the visor of a ranch pickup.

Ranch manager Warren Morris told investigators that Forni must have removed tags from the house when he had come by a few days earlier, and that film was missing from a camera, according to the affidavit.

All seven people cited were ordered to appear March 2 in Wallowa County Circuit Court.

Correspondent Richard Cockle and news researchers Kathleen Blythe and Lynne Palombo of The Oregonian contributed to this report.

Bryan Denson: 503-294-7614; [email protected]  

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