By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A Colorado hunting outfitter accused of injuring mountain lions and bobcats to help clients kill them more easily pleaded guilty on Friday in a U.S. court in Denver to one felony count of conspiring to break a federal wildlife law, prosecutors said.
In a plea agreement struck with federal attorneys, Christopher Loncarich, 55, of Mack, Colorado, admitted to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, which bans the transportation or sale across state lines of illegally gained wildlife, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
As part of the plea deal, Loncarich admitted he led a ring of professional hunters who shot, trapped and caged the wild cats to provide clients with phony fair chase hunts in Colorado and Utah from 2007 to 2010, prosecutors said in a statement.
Loncarich's hunting packages targeting mountain lions ranged in price from $3,500 to $7,500 and bobcat hunts cost between $700 and $1,500, U.S. attorneys said.
Nicholaus Rodgers of Shady Cove, Oregon, Loncarich's lead hunting guide, last month pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act for his part in the illegal big-game hunts, according to the Justice Department.
A conviction on the felony can bring up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
The Justice Department said in a statement that under the terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to a sentencing calculation but did not agree on a term of imprisonment, an amount of fines or an amount of restitution.
A sentencing hearing for Loncarich is set for Nov. 20, 2014, it said.
Loncarich could not be reached for comment after business hours on Friday. The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Sandra Maler)
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