LANDER — A federal plea deal was reached recently in a Lacey Act case involving wildlife baiting by a former Kinnear, WY couple.
Michael and Teresa Rinehart pled guilty in federal court in late 2021 and agreed to a plea deal for violations of the federal wildlife trafficking law.
The couple was ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the value of the illegally-killed wildlife. Both defendants were placed on one year of unsupervised probation and had their hunting privileges suspended worldwide for one year.
In 2011, Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game seized trail cameras on tribal lands near the boundary of Rinehart’s Wind River Whitetail Ranch. The Rineharts were non-native private landowners.
The game camera photos showed the defendants putting out large piles of corn during the fall hunting season. The cameras and corn were located in shooting lanes in front of large, elevated permanent hunting blinds located on Rinehart’s property, situated on the boundary between the reservation and their property.
The Shoshone and Arapaho wardens asked Game and Fish law enforcement for assistance with the case as it appeared the Rineharts were illegally hunting deer over bait both on the reservation and on non-native private lands for their outfitting business. The business catered to resident and nonresident white-tailed deer hunters. Game and Fish enlisted the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and together collected evidence over the next year.
The decade-long investigation confirmed the Rinehart’s placed bait so their clients could kill deer which is a violation of Wyoming hunting regulations. The Rineharts charged hunters up to $3,000 for each deer hunt. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement contacted clients in 11 different states.
Lacey Act Violation
The cooperative investigation led to charging the Rineharts with a federal Lacey Act violation, due to the value of the outfitted hunts and transport of illegally taken wildlife by nonresidents.
In addition to the baiting violations, some clients also took over limits of deer and harvested deer without a license, among other crimes.
Following the closure of the federal aspect of the case, the Fremont County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case and could charge up to 30 clients with various wildlife violations in Wyoming state court.
As in most wildlife cases, lawful hunters and members of the public were essential to the investigation, reporting unusual deer movements and suspicious activity at the ranch to Game and Fish.
The successful case was a cooperative effort between the Game and Fish, USFWS, Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Fremont County Prosecutor’s Office.