Some of you may recall that Foiles was originally charged with 23 federal game violations in the United States and another 12 federal game and animal cruelty violations in Canada, as the result of a multi-jurisdictional investigation that took several years to unfold. It also obviously cost American and Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars to set up, undertake, and ultimately charge and attempt to prosecute. The result of this investment? Foiles was initially facing a decade or more in federal prison, forfeiture of enormous amounts of real estate, vehicles, guns, and other property, and well over a million dollars in federal fines. So why just a conviction on one count, with a year in prison and a total of about $300,000 in fines? What in the world happened?
If you read the first USDOJ press release in December 2010, or any of the statements made by Foiles' ex-wife, former business partners, former guides, and other folks, you heard about all kinds of revolting accusations, including the infamous claim that Foiles shot geese in a park with a pellet gun, just to get the leg bands. I read them, and I wrote all about it - trying to make a point without crucifying Foiles. It was infuriating - the last thing hunters need is bad press from other hunters. Eventually the charges were laid out in more detail - I wrote about that too. About that time, it became clear that some of the initial claims being publicized were not going to be worked into actual legal charges. Sound strange? I thought so too. The bizarro cherry on top was the 1-count plea deal, announced in late June, 2011.
And it got stranger. The day after the plea was announced, Foiles let loose a furious (and pretty crazy-sounding) tirade on his website about all the people who double-crossed him, received immunity to testify against him, etc. He wisely reconsidered this tactic and removed the post from his company's message board, but (of course) not before a hundred people had posted it all over the internet. I was pretty incredulous over the whole thing. It certainly looked like the guy had just gotten the deal of the century (far short of being totally acquitted, of course), and here he was throwing around blame to the four corners of the earth. I took it upon myself to deconstruct and basically rewrite his post-plea deal statement (here it is), as it would be assembled by a person with their wits about them (and a good dose of "shut the f* up while you're ahead").
So, a week later, Jeff Foiles called me. Yup. He had seen my most recent post, absolutely hated it, but also conceded that I had made a lot of good points. After all, he had pleaded guilty in federal court. Open and shut. He admitted (to the court, and then to me) that he allowed a client (an undercover federal game warden) to kill an extra duck, then intentionally falsified the farm's duck harvest log to make it seem like the duck was legally killed, and then gave the duck over to the undercover warden, who told Foiles explicitly that he intended to take it across the state line (which Foiles thought nothing of, at the time). Foiles spoke with me about his family's heritage in waterfowling, and the admittedly "over the top" attitude about duck and goose hunting that he, his business partners, and his family all share. He also conceded that this hardcore attitude sometimes results in game violations. And that he got caught.
But the thing I took away from our first conversation - I hope to formally interview Foiles during or after his prison sentence - is that he is crushed. Crushed and surprisingly introspective that his "way of life" (aggressive hunting that can sometimes result in game violations) very nearly cost him that same "way of life." Absolutely miserable with the fact that he had (mis)placed far too much trust in other people around him, who, when they caught wind of the federal investigation, were quick to tell all kinds of tales - both founded and unfounded - with Jeff Foiles as the central character in each story. I don't feel bad for Jeff Foiles on this count - one's business and ethics decisions should never be based on the tenet, "Shit, they'll never rat me out." And Foiles certainly knows that now.
But on the first count - the near disintegration of his entire life, family, and livelihood as the result of poaching game birds - I do feel some compassion for the guy. He's spending a year in prison, has been banned from hunting for 4 total years, and will have to fork over $100,000 in fines. Why any compassion at all?
According to the US Department of Justice, the average time served for those convicted of rape is 5.4 years. For DUI manslaughter? Less than 3 years. Securities fraud (a la Madoff)? 2 years. And yet, after spending 5 years and millions of dollars to establish a pattern of illegal activity in Jeff Foiles' commercial hunting operations, the US DOJ settled on one misdemeanor count of "illegal reporting," sending him to jail for an entire year.
I've tried, and been unsuccessful, at contacting the US Department of Justice for comment on the Foiles case. I'd like to hear from them exactly what the hell happened? ONE misdemeanor conviction? (seems ridiculously light, given the original 23 charges) And resulting in an entire YEAR in prison? (seems ridiculously heavy, given the nature of the actual conviction). The federal government definitely did not deliver as advertised on this one, and at some point I have to wonder, was it ever what they said it was?
As Jeff Foiles gets used to the daily schedule at the Marion Prison Camp, it seems pretty hard to believe USDOJ's original assertion that Foiles is a mastermind of commercial game poaching, and a lot easier to believe that he's just a perennial violator of minor game laws, who, prior to this whole episode, was just too stubborn to come into compliance with the federal and state hunting regulations. And if that's the case, it sure seems like the federal government could have saved a ton of money by just issuing Foiles a few misdemeanor hunting tickets every day for a season or two, instead of putting this case on display as an example of the feds "going after poachers." Because honestly, if offering a plea on one misdemeanor from an original 23-count felony indictment is "going after poachers," our game populations and our hunting culture are in big, big trouble.
I've had a really interesting time covering this court case - the first time I've done anything like this on River Mud. I can't say that it's really been satisfying, because I still can't really tell what was accomplished in this case. Four years from now, Foiles will be guiding bird hunts again, and people will be paying thousands of dollars to hunt with him, as they were just a year ago. The federal government, as best I can tell, will still be spinning its wheels trying to understand how to regulate and prosecute illegal commercial fishing and hunting. One thing's for sure - this wasn't a shining step into the future for anybody involved.
|Marion Federal Prison|