By Mark Freeman
Nicholaus Rodgers could see his federal poaching sentence slashed for helping prosecutors gain more plea agreements in the case.
A Shady Cove man has cooperated with federal authorities in hopes of reducing his upcoming federal prison term for helping poachers in Colorado and Utah illegally kill bobcats and cougars, some of which were caged, ensnared and even maimed to make it easier for his clients to kill them.
Court papers filed by prosecutors in Colorado say Nicholaus Rodgers, 31, helped secure plea agreements with other co-conspirators.
The court filings, however, do not identify the co-conspirators nor do they state how many plea agreements were reached with Rodgers' help.
But Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch wrote in an October court document that Rodgers' "substantial assistance" in the case was enough for him to recommend less prison time when he is sentenced Jan. 6 in Colorado.
Rodgers pleaded guilty July 29 in U.S. District Court in Denver to a single violation of the federal Lacey Act, which regulates illegal interstate hunting and trafficking of illegally obtained wildlife parts.
In exchange, six other felony wildlife charges were dropped.Rodgers was set for sentencing Friday, but it was pushed back to January to give his defense team time to work out details.
At the time of Rodgers' guilty plea, federal prosecutors in court papers estimated Rodgers' likely sentence would be anywhere from a year to 41 months in federal prison, plus fines and restitution for the cougars and bobcats he helped poach.
By reducing his so-called "offense level" as asked for by Hirsch, federal sentencing rules show that range to be anywhere from 8 to 33 months in prison, depending upon Rodgers' criminal history.
Rodgers' 31-page plea agreement includes a list of admissions to taking part in illegal hunting expeditions for mostly out-of-state clients — and one undercover federal agent — from 2007 to 2009 for Rodgers' outfitter boss, Christopher Loncarich of Colorado.
Loncarich pleaded guilty Aug. 15 to one count of conspiracy to violated the Lacey Act and faces as much as 30 months in prison at his sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 20.
Rodgers used collapsible traps or snares to capture cougars in the field, then released them to be found and shot by Loncarich's unwitting clients, many of whom were unlicensed or without proper tags, the agreement states.
Some of the cougars were shot in a leg before they were released from cages so they would not wander away from the clients in the area, according to court documents. Other animals were held in place by snares that were undetected by the poaching clients who shot them from a distance, the agreement states.
On Feb. 6, 2009, in Utah, Loncarich allegedly shot and wounded a caged bobcat, which Rodgers then released so it could be shot and killed by a client, who happened to be an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, according to both men's indictment.
That bobcat was then taken illegally to Colorado and falsely reported as having been shot there, the indictment states.Rodgers and Loncarich were indicted in January.
The indictment makes reference to four unindicted and unnamed co-conspirators, although two were identified in court papers as Loncarich's daughters and one as a son-in-law, all of whom worked for Loncarich.
The fourth co-conspirator was identified only as a former guide.