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18 sentenced in South Dakota wildlife case


Authorities say 18 people have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for wildlife violations at a commercial hunting operation in southern South Dakota's Todd County.

"This is one of the largest wildlife cases in South Dakota history," Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk said in a statement.

Fines, restitution and civil damages in the case total more than $235,000, according to U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson and state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

The investigation handled by state and federal wildlife agencies and the Rosebud Sioux tribe determined that Rock Creek Ranch owners John and Kathryn Chauncey and several of their hunting clients from Michigan, Texas and New Jersey unlawfully killed deer, hawks, owls, badgers and turkeys between 2008 and 2012.

John Chauncey was sentenced to two months in custody and ordered to pay about $93,000. Kathryn Chauncey was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $10,500.

Kathryn Chauncey told The Associated Press on Thursday that part of the information prosecutors used to build the case against her family was false, including some of the alleged deer hunting incidents.

"We're not saying we're innocent," she said. "We did do some illegal hunting, but some of their claims were false, and we could not prove them otherwise."

She said she and her husband pleaded guilty out of fear that if they didn't, prosecutors would implicate their daughter in the case.

Sixteen others were fined between $500 and $26,000. They also were given probation and stripped of hunting privileges.

"The Rock Creek Ranch investigation exposed the large-scale illegal commercial exploitation of South Dakota wildlife resources," said William Woody, assistant law enforcement director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This case shows the importance of federal and state officers working together to protect our resident wildlife species."