United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced that Jordan Cook, age 32, of Boerne, Texas, has been sentenced in federal court in Omaha, Nebraska, for violating the Lacey 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.
Cook admitted to six misdemeanor counts of the illegal taking of wildlife in interstate commerce and was sentenced by United States Magistrate Judge Michael D. Nelson to five years of probation. Cook was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $39,150 in restitution.
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 between May 2014 and May 2017, Cook was employed by Hidden Hills Outfitters (HHO), a commercial big game guiding and outfitting business located near Broken Bow, Nebraska, and provided hunting and guiding services to HHO clients.
The investigation determined that during a number of these hunts, Cook guided and assisted HHO clients in unlawful hunting activities which included hunting and taking white-tailed deer, mule deer, and wild turkey within baited areas, from a public roadway, at night, without a valid permit, in excess of the bag limit, and with prohibited weapons, all of which are in violation of Nebraska State law or regulation.
In April 2015, Cook guided a Virginia resident and HHO turkey hunting client whom Cook knew only possessed one spring turkey permit. Cook aided and directed the client in unlawfully killing at least three turkeys, knowing that the client’s permit authorized only one turkey.
During November 2015, Cook guided a New York resident and HHO white-tailed deer rifle hunting client. Cook, knowing and previously participating in HHO’s unlawful establishment and use of numerous baited areas, guided, accompanied, and assisted the client taking a trophy-sized white-tailed deer from an elevated tree stand placed less than 50 yards from an HHO bait site located west of Brewster, Nebraska.
During December 2015, Cook guided an Indiana resident and HHO muzzleloader mule deer hunting client. Cook guided and assisted the client unlawfully taking the mule deer with a shotgun, knowing the weapon was prohibited by Nebraska law during the muzzleloader season. Each of the hunts involved wildlife taken and possessed in violation of Nebraska state law that was subsequently transported in interstate commerce from HHO to the clients’ respective residence or elsewhere.
In January 2017, Cook transported antlers and hides from two trophy-sized mule deer and one trophy-sized white-tailed deer in interstate commerce.
Cook, knowing the unlawful nature of the hunts, transported parts from deer taken during the 2016 season from HHO to a taxidermist located near Clifton, Colorado, on behalf of their respective owners, which included a 6 X 9 set of antlers scoring in excess of 200 inches originating from a mule deer taken unlawfully by an HHO owner without a permit, during night-time closed season hours, from the roadway, and with a suppressed rifle during archery season; a 5 X 6 set of 195-inch antlers originating from a mule deer taken unlawfully by another HHO guide without a permit and with a suppressed rifle during the muzzleloader season; and a 6 X 6 set of 180-inch antlers originating from a white-tailed deer taken unlawfully by an HHO client without a permit, during night-time closed season hours, from the roadway, and with a suppressed rifle during muzzleloader season.
Both mule deer taken unlawfully without permits by the HHO owner and guide were submitted to the Colorado taxidermist with hunting permits falsely representing them as being killed by other HHO clients in order to conceal the fact they were killed unlawfully without a permit.
In addition, Cook knew the 200-inch-plus set of mule deer antlers and a second trophy-sized mule deer were taken by the HHO owner who, after unlawfully killing the deer with a suppressed rifle and at night, severed the trophy heads/antlers, abandoned the headless deer carcasses at the kill site and intentionally failed to salvage any edible meat, and transported and concealed both sets of trophy heads/antlers at a remote wooded location near Brewster, Nebraska, referred to by HHO associates as “The Contraband Lot.”
Cook was present and personally assisted an HHO owner guiding two HHO clients who unlawfully took a total of three white-tailed deer and two mule deer in three days, including the 180-inch white-tailed deer he transported to the Colorado taxidermist.
The sentencing is a continuation of the ongoing prosecution of numerous defendants related to violations committed by owners, guides, and clients of Hidden Hills Outfitters. To date, twenty-five defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced and ordered to pay a total of $240,548 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.