MT: Saco ranch family members admit to hunting scheme
February 06, 2009
Saco ranch family members admit to hunting scheme
Three members of a Hi-Line family admitted Thursday that they ran an
illegal hunting operation that brought in nonresident hunters who paid
thousands of dollars to shoot big game on their ranch near Saco.
The scheme ran for five years, until investigators with the state
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks learned of it in 2003, federal
prosecutors said. Investigators have since fined and seized mounts of
poached animals from dozens of clients who participated in the illegal
In the fall of 2003, 10 whitetail and mule deer bucks were killed on the
ranch by nonresident hunters who didn't have valid licenses.
Leo O. Bergtoll, 74, his wife, Anna Lou L. Bergtoll, 68, and their son,
Darrel L. Bergtoll, 44, pleaded guilty to federal charges during their first
appearance in U.S. District Court in Billings. A fourth defendant, Anthony
J. Bazile, 60, of Braithwaite, La., was indicted separately, has pleaded not
guilty and is set for trial April 6.
Leo Bergtoll pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to violate the Lacey
Act, which regulates the sale, transportation and purchase of wildlife. Anna
Lou Bergtoll and Darrel Bergtoll each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count
of violating the Lacey Act.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Anderson of Missoula said in court
documents that the Bergtolls worked with Bazile, a longtime associate, to
run a hunting business on their cattle ranch, the Frenchman Valley Ranch.
Bazile recruited clients for weeklong hunting trips in which he charged
$800 a person to apply for a Montana landowner-sponsored buck deer license.
Bazile would forward the client's name and application fee of $300 to Anna
Lou Bergtoll and pocket the rest. Anna Lou Bergtoll would submit the
client's name for the license drawing. Darrel Bergtoll, who owns a separate
parcel of land nearby, also would submit clients' names from Bazile for
licenses on his property, even though the clients hunted on his parents'
If clients failed to draw a license, Bazile urged them to come to Montana
anyway and assured them that they would get licenses, Anderson said. The
clients each paid another $1,200 outfitting fee when they arrived at the
Meanwhile, the Bergtolls got resident hunting licenses and asked other
family members and hired hands to do the same. Leo and Anna Lou Bergtoll
would buy the resident licenses from their employees for $100 and resell
them to the nonresident hunters, who used them to tag animals they shot.
Trophy parts of illegally killed animals were sent to a nearby
taxidermist for mounting or were sometimes taken home by the clients.
The Frenchman Valley Ranch had about 20 permanent wooden hunting blinds,
a bunkhouse for clients and vehicles for Bazile and clients. Bazile cooked
for the clients and told them which blinds to use. As payment for his
"client wrangling" services, he kept at least one $1,200 hunting fee each
season, Anderson said.
Leo Bergtoll faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine
on the conspiracy count, while his wife and son face a maximum of one year
in prison and a $100,000 fine on the misdemeanor.
U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby continued their release without bond.
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