A large Montana hunting violations case is nearing closure as more and more of the defendants reach the courtroom. Mark Morse, a wealthy Florida land developer, along with his wife M’Lissa, his daughter Kelsey, two business partners and employees face an extensive list of criminal charges for big game violations over a period of three years.
In February, former Florida game warden Richard Staton pled guilty to three misdemeanor hunting violations and was fined $1,000. Staton ran Morse’ Montana ranch, along with Montana resident Toby Griffin. Griffin faced a felony charge of illegally possessing game animals.
In May, Kelsey Morse pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges of hunting an elk and hunting turkey in Montana without proper licenses. Ms. Morse had an elk license but not the license required to for bow-hunting. Her attorney said that she relied upon other people to purchase the proper licenses on her behalf.
She received a six-month deferred sentence on both charges and was ordered to pay more than $2,000 in fines, as well as court costs and restitution. She did not lose her hunting privileges, despite a request from the prosecutor.
In June, charges against Griffin were dismissed for lack of evidence. Montana judge Susan Watters said the fact that he lived in the ranch house owned by Morse was not sufficient evidence to prove “constructive possession” of the mounts of trophy elk and mule deer. The prosecution needed to prove “dominion and control.”
Five cases remain to be heard:
- Mark Morse is still awaiting trial. He is charged with two felony counts of unlawful possession of a game animal and one count of accountability for hunting without a license. He has pled not guilty.
- M’Lissa Morse is facing a single charge of unlawful possession of a buck mule deer.
- James Rainey, a business associate and co-owner of a Montana ranch, is charged with felony unlawful possession of a game animal, two misdemeanor counts of waste or abandonment of a game animal, and a misdemeanor for hunting without a license.
- Lenard Powell, another business associate, faces one felony charge for unlawful possession of a game animal.
- Utah outfitter David Duncan is charged with illegal transfer of his outfitter license for use by Morse and Rainey.
Source: Billings Gazette, “Poaching charge dismissed by judge at trial,” Greg Tuttle, June 22, 2011.