HELENA - Another staff member for Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., was on a hunting trip last November that led to citations this month against Rehberg's new state director for poaching a young bull elk and leaving the carcass behind, a Rehberg spokesman confirmed Wednedsay.
Spokesman Jed Link said that Mike Waite, a field representative for Rehberg, was on the hunting trip with Randy Vogel, who was hired March 1 as Rehberg's new state director. However, Link said he didn't know where Waite was during the alleged poaching incident or if Waite knew about it.
Link said the congressman didn't know anything about the citations until Vogel was served with them on March 2, the day after Rehberg hired him as state director.
Vogel, a former Billings police officer, also worked as Rehberg's state director from 2001 until 2007. He was hired again March 1 to succeed Dustin Frost, who left Rehberg to start his own consulting businesses.
Vogel is charged with shooting a spike bull elk during closed season near Virginia City, abandoning the carcass in the field, killing more than one elk without authorization and obstructing a peace officer.
Vogel is due to appear in Madison County Justice Court next week on the charges.
His lawyer, Lance Lovell of Billings, told Lee Newspapers that Vogel asked to be put on unpaid administrative leave so he can aggressively fight the charges.
"Randy is innocent of these charges and intends to vigorously defend" himself, Lovell said. Additionally, Lovell said, Vogel "doesn't want these charges to be a distraction to the Rehberg team and the work they're doing."
Lovell said a game warden didn't contact Vogel about the incident until January - more than a month before he was hired.
Lovell said he could not release more details of the case until the legal proceedings are farther along.
Madison County Attorney Chris Christensen and Sam Shepperd, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden captain for the area where the alleged offense occurred, also wouldn't talk further about specifics of the trip.
Shepperd said other people were on the trip, but declined to name them.
"As of right now, no other citations are pending," he said.
State Democratic Party officials and candidates seized on the issue Wednesday, saying that Rehberg has some explaining to do.
"Montanans have a right to know what Denny Rehberg knew about his staff poaching an elk and when he knew it," said David Benson, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. "Either he knowingly hired a poacher, or he hired someone who knowingly lied about it."
Dennis McDonald, former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and one of at least two Democrats running to unseat Rehberg in November, also made a similar statement.
"He's taking the position that he didn't know about this incident," McDonald said. "That's a little hard to believe."
Lovell said Vogel intends to plead not guilty in his initial court appearance next week.
"I can adamantly assure you that not only is he presumed innocent, but we are going to vigorously contest these charges," he said.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Jennifer McKee can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at email@example.com.