Villages President Charged with Poaching

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The president of a Florida retirement community and his family are among eight people who have been charged with poaching in Montana, state wildlife officials said Thursday.

Mark Morse, president and chief operating officer of The Villages retirement community 45 miles northwest of Orlando, faces felony charges that carry penalties of more than 20 years in prison and $203,000 in fines if he is convicted.

His attorney, Jay Lansing of Billings, said Morse will make an initial court appearance on Nov. 23 and plead not guilty. Lansing declined to comment further on the charges.

Morse owns a ranch in Montana’s Yellowstone and Big Horn counties, and co-owns another ranch with another defendant, James “Ike” Rainey, the owner of Rainey Construction Co., which does work in The Villages.

Others charged and issued summonses include Morse’s wife MLissa and daughter Kelsea; Lenard Lee Powell, president of LPI Curb Service, a concrete construction company that does work at The Villages; Richard Staton, a former employee on Morse and Rainey’s ranch; Toby Lee Griffith, an employee on Morse’s ranch; and David Duncan, a hunting outfitter.

The charges date back to 2006 and are the result of a year-long investigation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Bob Gibson said. Charges are pending against 10 other people identified during the investigation, he said.

Morse and Rainey are accused of killing and possessing elk and deer without a license. They face felony charges because the elk and deer are trophy animals with values that exceed $1,000. Morse is also accused of hunting under Duncan’s outfitter license when Duncan was not present, which is illegal.

“They were duped by nobody,” Gibson said. “They were fully aware of what the law was. They just violated it.”

In separate incidents, Morse’s employees, Griffith and Rainey, are accused of putting their tags on game that they didn’t kill in an attempt to cover up that Morse shot the animals without a license, Gibson said.

Griffith is charged with felony possession of a buck deer and bull elk that were killed by Morse in 2006 and with putting his tag on a bull elk shot by Morse in 2007. Staton is accused of using his license to tag a deer and an elk he didn’t kill, along with possessing a mule deer illegally killed in South Dakota.

Besides the felony charges stemming from two bull elk and four mule deer he allegedly killed in 2008, Rainey also faces two misdemeanor charges, including an accusation that he removed the head from an elk and allowed the meat of the carcass to rot.

Powell faces felony charges of illegal possession of the two bull elk and four mule deer.

If convicted, Rainey faces penalties of more than six years in prison and $53,000 in fines. His attorney, Michael Sherwood of Missoula, was in court Thursday and was not immediately available for comment.

MLissa Morse is charged with killing a mule deer buck in 2008 without a license, a misdemeanor. Kelsea Morse is charged with wounding a bull elk in 2008 and killing a turkey in 2007 without a valid license, also a misdemeanor.

The guide, Duncan, actually lives in Utah and used his parents’ Montana address to obtain a state outfitters’ license, Gibson said. He is charged with falsifying required outfitter license documents, applications for hunting licenses and client logs.

The felony charges could carry more than 20 years in prison and $101,000 in fines.

Montana voters passed an initiative in Tuesday’s election that will abolish outfitter licenses and raise the fees of nonresident licenses. Some outfitters in Montana charge clients more than $10,000 for the promise of shooting a trophy elk on private land. The initiative’s backers say the practice encourages landowners to limit access to paying clients only.

Gibson said it is not clear that the poaching would have still happened if the new law were already in effect, but he noted that only some of the charges are tied to the illegal use of an outfitter license.

Other animals were killed without any license, he said.