Scott C. Blader, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Robert Peters, 53, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin; Steven Reindahl, 55, Turtle Lake; David Johnson, 31, Barnes, Wisconsin; and Darren Johnson, 52, Deer Park, Wisconsin were sentenced Feb. 27 in federal court in Madison. The defendants were convicted of crimes related to an illegal 2017 mountain lion hunt in Montana, in violation of the Lacey Act, and conspiring to obstruct a 2018 federal grand jury investigation.
The charges against these men were the result of an investigation conducted by special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
According to the release from Blader, on Jan. 6, 2017, the four men were in Mosby, Montana hunting mountain lions with their dogs. That morning, the dogs treed a mountain lion. Only Darren Johnson and Reindahl had valid licenses to hunt mountain lions.
Despite not having a valid license, David Johnson used Darren Johnson’s rifle to shoot and kill the mountain lion, and Darren Johnson took out his tag and tagged the lion. According to witness testimony, Darren Johnson told the group that everyone needed to stick to the story that Darren Johnson killed the mountain lion. On Jan. 10, 2017, all four men drove back from Montana to Wisconsin; Darren Johnson and Reindahl transported the mountain lion hide. A few days later, Darren Johnson dropped off the hide at David Johnson’s home.
In late May 2018, Peters and Reindahl were served with grand jury subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury June 21, 2018 in Madison regarding the 2017 mountain lion hunt. On Sunday, June 17, 2018, Darren and David Johnson, Peters and Reindahl met at Peter’s home in Turtle Lake to talk about the upcoming grand jury session. At the meeting, Darren Johnson allegedly told everyone to stick to the story that he killed the Montana mountain lion Jan. 6, 2017, and that the agents did not have any proof to say otherwise.
On June 21, 2018, Peters and Reindahl appeared before the grand jury. Later, Peters and Reindahl admitted that they lied to the grand jury and agreed to cooperate and tell the truth. They recanted their prior testimony and explained that David Johnson killed the mountain lion and Darren Johnson tagged it and told everyone he killed it and they all needed to stick to that story.
Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker sentenced Peters and Reindahl to two years of probation, David Johnson to a three-year term of probation, and Darren Johnson to a four-year term of probation. As a condition of probation, these defendants cannot hunt and trap, or assist and/or accompany others engaged in hunting or trapping worldwide for a period of two years to begin on the date of sentencing. Both Peters and Reindahl were fined $5,000, David Johnson was fined $25,000, and Darren Johnson was fined $30,000. All fines were due and payable immediately. David and Darren Johnson’s fines were paid directly to the Lacey Act Reward Fund.
In addition, Judge Crocker ordered three of the defendants to forfeit instrumentalities used during the illegal hunt. Peters was ordered to forfeit a Browning Abolti rifle and a bobcat hide.
David Johnson was ordered to forfeit a Garmin Astro 320 Receiver, three Garmin dog collars, 10-30x50 Zoom Binoculars, a Remington 870 Super Mag 12 gauge shotgun, and a Mountain lion hide (Montana lion).
Darren Johnson was ordered to forfeit a 2012 Ford F-250 pickup truck, a Savage Model 11 .223 rifle with Konus 3-9x40 scope, a Garmin Astro 320 receiver, three Garmin Dog Collars, Nikon 10x42 binoculars, a Uniden UKM380 VHF radio, a Mountain lion and bobcat mount (Colorado lion), and a Mountain lion skull (Montana lion).
In imposing the sentences, Judge Crocker observed that these four defendants were men “Who loved and lived to hunt, but they cut corners and cheated. They broke the law knowingly.” Judge Crocker also said, “Most hunters play by the rules and they expect all hunters to play by the rules.” The judge explained, these sentences need to send the general deterrence message to the hunting community, “If you play by the rules you are not a chump, and if you don’t play by the rules you face severe consequences, and the government will hit you where it hurts. The government will take away what you love the most – hunting.”
Judge Crocker told the defendants, “These types of cases are important. Hunting is a privilege not a right. The rules apply to everyone. You cannot cheat.” Finally, the judge counseled the defendants that, “this case could easily have been a felony with far more severe sanctions with life-changing results. It could have been much worse.” The judge ended by saying, “These sentences are no picnic. But they are supposed to hurt. If you cheat, your sentence should make you hurt. We won’t tolerate this type of behavior.”