United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced that Rodney Lee Owen, age 57, of Blue Springs, Missouri, was sentenced today in federal court in Omaha, Nebraska, for violations of the Lacey Act. United States Magistrate Judge Michael D. Nelson sentenced Owen to five years’ probation for trafficking wildlife, a misdemeanor. Owen was ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $25,000 and restitution in the amount of $25,000. During his term of probation, Owen will not be permitted to hunt, trap, assist or be present with anyone engaged in those activities at any location or conduct or affiliate with any filming, recording, or television or media productions related to hunting.
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 determined that in the fall of 2015, 2016, and 2017, Owen traveled to Hidden Hills Outfitters, a commercial big game guiding and outfitting business located near Broken Bow, Nebraska, to conduct wildlife hunts. During the hunts, Owen and Hidden Hills Outfitters owners and employees had knowledge regarding the presence of bait at the proposed hunting locations. Under Nebraska state law, it is illegal to hunt within 200 yards of bait.
In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Owen hunted or took record-book deer within baited areas managed by Hidden Hills Outfitters including a 2015 white-tailed deer named “3-Way,” a 2016 white-tailed deer named “Dirty Harry,” and a 2017 mule deer named “Inline.” Owen initially wounded the 2017 mule deer with a bow during archery season. The following day Owen accompanied a Hidden Hills Outfitters owner and guide recovering only the deer head, cape, and antlers, and wasting the edible meat after witnessing the Hidden Hills Outfitters owner and guide unlawfully killing the deer with a rifle. Prior to the 2017 mule deer hunt, Owen also unlawfully killed a pronghorn without a valid permit.
Owen, assisted by others, recorded and submitted video recordings associated with some of the hunts to Drury Outdoors, a commercial hunting video production company, for inclusion on Drury Outdoors television shows, of which, the 2015 and 2016 hunts were featured on Drury Outdoors Dream Seasons 13 and 14 shows. The wildlife illegally taken by Owen was also subsequently transported from Nebraska to Missouri.
Owen paid Hidden Hills Outfitters for the guiding and outfitting services provided for the hunts. As part of a negotiated payment, Hidden Hills Outfitters only charged Owen approximately half the standard Hidden Hills Outfitters rate in exchange for Owen naming and promoting Hidden Hills Outfitters upon the video recordings obtained from the hunt, intended for commercial video production.
Today’s conviction marks the first formal sentencing in the ongoing prosecution of numerous defendants related to violations committed by owners, guides, and clients of Hidden Hills Outfitters. To date, nineteen defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced and ordered to pay a total of $101,700 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.
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.