United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced that Jacob Hueftle, 30, of Broken Bow, Nebraska, and Hidden Hills Outfitters, LLC (HHO) were sentenced today in federal court in Omaha, Nebraska, by Senior United States District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon for conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the trafficking in interstate commerce “tainted” (i.e., taken in violation of a law or regulation) wildlife, fish, or indigenous plants. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits, among other things, the shooting and killing of hawks, falcons, and other migratory birds.
Hueftle and HHO each admitted to one felony conspiracy count involving the illegal transport, purchase, and sale of wildlife in interstate commerce. Hueftle was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment. There is no parole in the federal system. After his release from prison, Hueftle will begin a three-year term of supervised release. As part of his term of supervised release, and pursuant to the plea agreement, Hueftle will not be permitted to hunt, trap, guide, outfit, or otherwise engage in any activities associated with the hunting, trapping, guiding, or outfitting business for fifteen (15) years. Senior Judge Bataillon ordered Hueftle and HHO to pay $214,375 in restitution. Hueftle was also ordered to forfeit or abandon his interest in a .308 caliber DPMS Panther Arms LR-308 scoped rifle, four trophy mule deer and pronghorn taxidermy mounts, and various optics, electronic game cameras, and other hunting equipment used during the commission of the conspiracy.
An investigation determined that between September 2012 and April 2018, Jacob Hueftle, HHO, and other conspirators provided guiding and outfitting services to hunting clients for the unlawful taking of no less than 97 big game animals or wild turkeys in violation of Nebraska State Law including 30 white-tailed deer, 34 mule deer, six pronghorn, and 27 wild turkey. HHO contracted hunting clients residing almost exclusively outside the state of Nebraska including at least 118 clients from 21 states outside of Nebraska. HHO provided guiding and hunting services to contracted hunting clients for $2,500 to $7,000 depending upon the target species.
The investigation determined that Hueftle and other HHO associates intentionally established and maintained bait sites at or near client hunting locations for the purpose of taking big game or turkey. Law enforcement determined that approximately 80 percent of the archery white-tailed deer clients killed their deer within a baited area and that approximately one-half of HHO rifle white-tailed deer hunting clients hunted and killed their deer within a baited area. Other illegal hunting activity included hunting mule deer within the Nebraska Mule Deer Conservation Area, altering hunting permits, taking turkey in excess of established bag limits, and taking mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, and wild turkey with rifles or other prohibited weapons.
It was also determined Hueftle and other HHO associates routinely killed non-game migratory birds with a rifle, including various native species of hawks or falcons such as red-tailed hawks and American kestrels, by shooting the birds while perched upon fence lines or electrical power lines.
The sentencing hearing today is part of the ongoing prosecution of numerous defendants related to violations committed by owners, guides, and clients of Hidden Hills Outfitters. To date, 31 defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced and ordered to pay a total of $570,453 in fines and restitution for underlying violations related to deer taken within baited areas; deer, pronghorn, and wild turkeys taken with weapons or firearms prohibited during their respective hunting seasons; deer taken during closed season hours, from the road, or without a valid permit; and mule deer taken within the Mule Deer Conservation Area.
“Today’s sentencing is a testament to the commitment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks to protect the wildlife resources of Nebraska,” said Dan Coil, Acting Special Agent in Charge, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, Interior Region 5. “This investigation was a great example of the agencies working together to apprehend those profiting from the illegal take of wildlife at the expense of us all.”
The operation was a joint investigation conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Law Enforcement Division.