HELENA - A federal appeals court has overturned the conviction of Bigfork hunting guide John Kevin Moore on a federal poaching charge.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also reversed the conviction of Moore and Dennis LeVeque of Cascade on mail fraud charges.
Moore cannot be retried on the poaching charge, but the court ordered him and LeVeque to be retried on the mail fraud charges. That trial will start May 5 in U.S. District Court in Helena.
Both men had argued that while they made mistakes, they didn't knowingly try to defraud anyone.
The court held that the government didn't present enough evidence to convict Moore of conspiracy under the Lacey Act, which prohibits exporting, transporting or selling game taken illegally.
The charges grew out of a 1998 hunting trip by four out-of-state men recruited by Moore, a licensed guide. Moore paid LeVeque, a licensed outfitter, $10,000 for permission to take the hunters onto the Meagher County ranch belonging to Bill Galt, with whom LeVeque had a lease agreement.
Galt testified that LeVeque said the four men were his clients, although Moore, not LeVeque, apparently was providing the outfitting services. However, Moore didn't tell the clients that LeVeque was the licensed outfitter.
This detail became an issue because one of the four men, R.E. McMaster of Texas, was unable to obtain an out-of-state hunting license through the state's lottery system. However, he obtained the license through LeVeque, based upon Moore's advice.
Officials with Montana's fish and game office said LeVeque made false statements to them in order to get McMaster the nonresident license.
Government prosecutors said Moore and LeVeque committed mail fraud by collecting the hunting and outfitting fees under false pretenses.
Only brow-tine bull elk could be killed on Galt's land. When McMaster killed a bull, the man who was guiding him for Moore, Howard Negri, thought it was a legal kill, but the other hunters later decided it was not - but they did not tell Moore.
McMaster sent the bull to a taxidermist in Kalispell, who eventually mailed it to McMaster's home in Texas. Federal officials said that violated the Lacey Act.
The appeals court judges, however, disagreed. They said Moore, as a licensed guide, should have known the Galt Ranch was brow-tine only, but prosecutors did not prove that he didn't know.
"The Lacey Act requires that the defendant actually know that the taking was illegal. So we reverse the conviction of Moore based on insufficient evidence."