Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jeff Foiles Begins Prison Sentence For Single Misdemeanor Charge

It's done.  Duck hunting celebrity Jeff Foiles just began a 13-month prison sentence at the Federal work camp in Marion, Illinois.  A few months ago, Foiles pleaded guilty to one Federal count of profiting from the falsification of duck harvest records, resulting in an illegally killed duck being transported across state lines.  Because Foiles' guide service profited from the transaction, it was a violation of the Lacey Act, a serious Federal anti-poaching law.

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


Gary Thompson said...

that's a terrific post! Conjures up all sorts of mix emotions.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice piece of journalism. Good post.

Tim said...

Great post! I don't really know what I think about it all. It is further proof that our justice system is broken.

Honest question here: If he was no so well known do you think the outcome would have been the same? Would an average Joe have gone to prison for that?

River Mud said...

Thanks for the compliments, gentlemen!

Tim - the likely outcome for a normal hunter is that a single warden would have consistently harrassed and ticketed him, until finally (at some point), he would lose his hunting privileges in that state. If the violations continued, he'd be hit with bigger fines and small-time jail.

Clearly with Foiles, they were looking to pop him for big, big, big stuff (and he admitted a dozen or more similar "over the limit" types of violations in his plea agreement, where either he or an employee of his, or a client of theirs, violated the law and then Foiles covered it up). I think USDOJ thought they'd catch him with piles and piles of birds and be able to trot him out in front of the public and say, "Guides are poachers!" But it just didn't happen. Their evidence on most charges was absolute crap, which is their fault.

Michael J. Budd said...

They spent "millions" on the case, and/or the investigation? Sounds like a lot, though once you add up the costs of all the lawyers and officers; it might be in that range. However, the officers were doing their job and going about their daily routines. Was it really an additional cost to the taxpayer?

I think they sent a clear message. Screw up like this and you can be busted and charged with felonies. Since he will probably be on probation, I doubt he screws up again....or intentionally breaks the law. If he does, the felonies might stick. This will hopefully solve the problem.

Great post and thanks for keeping us posted on Foiles. I hadn't heard of him until your post. Guys like him, over zealous duck hunters, are a hindrance to conservation and a black eye on other hunters. Glad he got busted, but I also agree he should not do a lot of jail time for the very reasons you mentioned. If you only spend 3 years for rape and not a life sentence for killing someone; then Foiles should not do lengthy time for shooting over limits of birds. He should pay up big $ though, which he is doing. I also doubt he gets the same amount of business as before. Not many people with deep pockets (as his past clients probably had?) will want to hunt with him, as most folks with deep pockets have political connections and can't be seen with this type of guy.

Foiles undoubtedly generated a lot of Pittman-Robertson funds! Maybe he'll turn out to be a great conservation leader to try and right his wrongs.

Michael J. Budd said...

I meant, I hadn't heard of him until your original posts.

tugboatdude said...

I'm up to date on this entire situation and I applaud you for taking the time to write down to earth articles on it.The message I get is as follows.The people he surrounded himself with were riding the gravy train.When the train crashed it was every man for himself.I hope when he gets out he is an outspoken conservationist and doesn't go right back into making money off guide services.

Alex said...

Great read! Very informative. You put in a lot of work.

Honestly hadn't heard of this guy or this case prior to this post. Interesting stuff.

River Mud said...

Mike, I did some back of napkin calculations, assuming that it took "X" many federal and state game wardens "Y" many of days over "Z" many years, and then repeated that calculation for USDOJ's legal staff, where I imagine (for example), 2 attorneys worked on this full time for about a year, and 3 more clerks or junior attorneys worked on this part time for about two years, with the federal prosecutor putting in about 4 months full time (at a much higher pay rate).

The rough number I got was a few million dollars. So, yes, saying "MILLIONS" of dollars is a bit of hyperbole on my part. But it certainly muddies the water!

River Mud said...

Tug and Mike - good point in that it'll be interesting to see what he does with himself after he's been granted his freedom.

I obviously don't expect some major rebirth of the guy - more like a Michael Vick situation, where you or I may still not like the guy, but hey, he is out there doing his job and staying legal on a daily basis, and taking the "law abiding citizen" gig seriously, at the minimum.

AYearOnTheFly said...

I haven't read a better article that been so well researched. Draws me in and makes me think. Great coverage.

Anonymous said...

I think the message the Fed's sent was received loud and clear, that if you don't obey hunting laws and are a habitual violator you will pay a heavy price. The jail time, fines, loss of hunting privileges, and attorney's fees incurred by Mr. Foiles are massive and will have a lasting affect on him. This case has been a major topic of discussion among waterfowlers ever since it broke, and once again now that it has come to a conclusion. Maybe that's how the Feds are able to justify the price of the investigation, by the publicity it has received and not by the results of the individual case.

Great job on reporting this story, it's very interesting to hear about your personal involvement with Mr. Foiles.

River Mud said...

Softshell, I think you have a great point. The effort was certainly cheaper and more effective than taking out full page ads in Cabelas catalogs saying, "We're watching commercial guides for poaching!"

What was disappointing was that some other guides, including one total idiot here in Maryland, picked up a flag of "THEY ARE TRYING TO END WATERFOWL HUNTING! YOU'RE NEXT!" hysteria, including priceless lines like, "If you have your buddy's goose in your truck untagged, and he goes into McDonalds to the bathroom, you could go to federal prison too!"


nate.mckenzie.aouc said...

Great Job on your post. This guy sure gives ALL Guides/Hunters a black eye in the mind of the public when they hear about a real successful hunter.

JS said...

I've been following this case as well. Sorry, this guy is the Michael Vick of hunting. I would have thrown the book at him. No sympathy.

River Mud said...

JS, I'm sure Foiles would cringe to read that, but there are some similarities that I bet he'd even admit to - primarily, that he believed (or was led to believe) that the rules do not apply to him.

And that if you attain a certain level of celebrity or notariety, and part of your image includes the phrase "bad man" or "bad boy" or "outlaw" or "gangsta," then you can bet that law enforcement is gonna give you a long, hard look.

Is that unfair? Sure, but the rules are the rules. And the system loooooooves to make an example out of some people.

Makayla said...

Because of guys like Jeff waterfowlers get a bad name everywhere... Personally I wish they would have been more harsh with him, four years of not hunting, a year in jail, and a hundred thousand dollars in fines is not enough. When the four years is up he will be back at it again only this time being more careful. Personally I am choosing not to support this guy or any store that sells the Foiles stuff. I have already sold anything and everything that has his name on it. I wish more hunters would the same. There are way too many hunters out there that support Foiles and it makes me sick! When Jeff gets out he needs to make a sincere public apology for everyone to see. I'm talking running it on all the outdoor channels and posting it on youtube! Then maybe I may start having a little sympothy for the guy and develope a little forgiveness. ( I hope the blog author allows this for everyone to see )

Karl said...

What happened here is that his lawyer ( a good one who earned his keep) preserved Mr Foiles' future hunting privileges and his ability to own guns. He did so with the exchange of a stiffer fine and jail time that normally wouldn't accompany one misdemeanor charge. Had the Feds really wanted to string Mr Foiles up they would have used the pile of evidence and corroborating testimony from his employees. The desire of the Fed's is to stop this activity. The public service announcements that where part of the plea agreement will have the most lasting effect.

Anonymous said...

Loved the post. Very well written. Though I haven't studied the entire back story, I'd like to make a couple points.

- The DOJ went after him to send a big message to the entire industry to hopefully curtail any and all guides playing things fast and loose.

- They had to drop most of the charges because after real examination they were probably considered hearsay and there was no evidence to back all that up.

- They had the one undercover officer count to hang the entire project on so he had to get at least some notable punishment though of course he won't do a full year. Just like the major criminals who don't serve their full sentences. He'll probably do 4-6 months tops. Time off for good behavior.

- Like you said this guy's ego got the best of him and he thought the rules didn't apply to him. I think the judge must have felt he sincerely got the point or he would have been more severe in his sentencing.

I once had a run in with the LAPD that went bad at the start. By the time I ended my day in court, the Judge apologized to me for the Policemen's behavior, the attorney's behavior and knocked the charges down to the lowest charge that exists in LA which is misdemeanor trespassing even though it didn't apply to the situation. The point is there is a whole lot that goes on in the details that may never make it to the public. I just hope for the best balanced outcome, that he did learn his lesson, that the punishment ultimately fit the crime and that he won't resort to the same old behavior as was mentioned.

River Mud said...

Well stated, Anon.

Nik said...

I agree, this was a very well written piece. I am glad someone has taken a step back and made a more objective look.

Now here is a view from Oregon.

He still got off easy.

@Tim:We have average Joes here in Oregon who get nailed for major violations of game laws and they lose hunting privileges for life.

The harsher penalties put down here come at the insistence of hunters who have lobbied the state to bring the hammer. We live in lefty land in a state government run by gun hating and at best neutral to hunting types. We are hyper sensitive to anything that puts us in a bad light even it it happens out of state.

If Foiles was just an average Joe and it was an issue of a single duck over the limit then yes, anything outside a couple hundred bucks and a slap on the wrist would be overkill. We have little tolerance for chuckleheads like Foiles and what he did.

When you get involved in hunting commercially you are no longer an average Joe. When you self promote yourself as God's gift to waterfowling (and I have yet to see a "celebrity" waterfowler not do be that way) you have put voluntarily yourself way in the middle of a very small microscope. He made a lot of money off his business. an he did so in part by breaking the law.

The jail time in regards to other serious crimes might have been a bit much. His ability to be able to throw anything more than a price of bread at a duck in the future shows that he got off easy.

Stay out of Oregon Mt.Foiles, your reputation has certainly proceeded you.

River Mud said...

Nik, in some ways, I wish hunters in liberal states (like you or I) would have been more vocal about this during the trial. Why?

A large chunk of waterfowlers deep in red-state country just do not care. They think Foiles is an idiot, for sure, but they think it has no potential impact on hunting rights or regulations....for them at least.

People have literally said during this debate, "Nobody's gonna ever close duck hunting. And if they do, I'll keep hunting anyway."

Which, again, doesn't exactly help matters. Especially for those of us 200 miles from PETA HQ and 35 miles from HSUS HQ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I've followed this from day one. IMHO the DOJ got everything they wanted out of this case. If you look at any number of cases like this(that end up in a plea bargain) they shoot for the moon knowing that in the end they will be happy to get "X". I'm sorry but I have no sympathy for Mr. Foiles. Anyone that spent any time with this person (pre charges mind you) knows that his ego played a BIG part in his every day life. I hope the DOJ does respond to your request for comment. I believe with all my heart that there would have been a very good chane a lot more would have "come out" (no one in the Foiles camp wanted public) had there been no plea aggrement and this would had gone to trial.

River Mud said...

Anon, I do think you're right that more would come out - for sure - but I think the question that both Foiles and DOJ had to ponder is, "How much is believable?"

There'd be a fine line between Foiles' ex-partners, ex-wife, ex-employees convincingly telling tales about what "HE" did (I think about 30 witnesses had immunity), and crossing a line into it seeming (to jurors) like, "Who are these people, and why do they have it out for the defendant? If they saw all this illegal activity, why didn't THEY stop it? Are they telling the truth?"

Plus the fact that Foiles' attorney could have made them all look stupid under cross-examination.

It could have gone polar opposites in a courtroom. Foiles banned for life....or Foiles walking out scot the end, I think that's why both sides were willing to deal.

Anonymous said...

Anything over a year's sentence is
considered a Felony; in Illinois a
convicted Felon cannot get a FOID
(Firearm Owners Idenidencation>sp
Card). Under Illinois law, he is
unable to 'own or have in his possession' any type of firearm. He will serve roughly 2/3rds of his
13 month sentence at Marion, and
then be transferred to a halfway
house. He GOT OFF EASY!!! Money
talks and Bullshit Walks.

Rabid Gander

Rick Rife said...

This was great journalism. Jeff Foiles was wrong and he knew it,but I do agree with you.This was a little over kill for the results they obtained. Jeff isn't the first to be convicted of the Lacy Act though. Does anybody remember Dale Powers? Prominent bow manufacture that lost pretty much everything he had for selling pre-bought hunting licenses back in the late 80's early part of 1990's . Power Mag bow company. He was affiliated with a prominate archery company when it broke news,thinking it was High County or maybe Alpine,can't exactly remember. But my point is this.If you do the crime sooner or later it is going to catch you with your hand in the cookie jar so to say. Nice post,thank you

sfick said...

Good story, it's been said here already but sometimes they want to set an example. 90% of law enforcement is keeping the honest people honest. Plus police, game officials included, like to push towards martial law anymore and then read about themselves in the paper the next day. It's not about being a conservation officer anymore, I see them wearing vests, tucking their pants into their jump boots and acting like SWAT Teams. Foiles was a perfect target for them, national personality, TV show, superstar image. I met him a couple of times at shows, he seemed like a nice enough guy. I heard a lot of stories about him though, way before I heard about the investigation, and not many were positive. He seemed to flaunt the outlaw image in his show and tapes. At first I was very upset with him for giving us all a bad name, but we'll survive this. I don't believe that he was betrayed as he puts it, not too many people faced with federal prosecution don't roll over. He can't say he wouldn't have done the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot. He can say it, not prove it. If you're looking at felonys, you'll do some terrible things to others to remain a citizen. The one thing that really bothered me about the whole deal is how he kept trying to act like it wasn't a big deal to poach, and that they were just picking on him. Even after he made a deal, he kept blaming others. I hope he see's that it always comes down to yourself to blame. I actually feel sorry for him in that 4 years of no hunting would be a terrible price to pay for me, let alone him, who made his life and livelyhood hunting. And as to the deal, how much more would be spent if it had to go to trial? Pleas are taken every day by murderers and violent scumbags without money or connections to save money and move cases through court. I don't believe he got anything special because of who he is. Especially if you look at the total 4 years of no hunting.

Anonymous said...

Very Nice Post. Long before his legal problems, I thought very little of Jeff. This was based on his videos and watching him laugh at wounded game. I would hope people would stop supporting him by purchasing his calls, or any other products.

DedduckWoody said...

First off I want to state that all my comments that I plan to make are true and correct. I remember the first time I met Jeff. It was in Gary, Indiana at a calling contest at Gander Mountain. While the contest was going on, there was someone out in the parking lot blowing calls interrupting the contest. I had to go out and tell them to shut the hell up. What I saw was Jeff pimping calls out of the back of an old ford truck. A couple months later my buddy was using one of Jeff's call to compete with and later at another event in Rantoul, Il. I built Jeff's first website. After several years we saw the "real" Jeff. He offered to pay us double to not let certain people/companies advertise on our site. That left a sour taste in our mouth and it was all down hill from there. Jeff developed a "I am God" attitude. The more "behind the scenes" we saw, the more we knew we had to distance ourselves from him. I have had the pleasure to rub elbows with some great guys like Buck Gardner, Tim Grounds, Wayne Betts, Fred Zink and many more. None of them had an attitude like Jeff. I think he got off easy and deserves way more of a penalty.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

let he that is without sin cast the first stone.

Anonymous said...

With any luck we will never see him get to cross north of the border again to continue his selfish, thoughtless acts and his
"One over the limit" attitude.
But in my opinion he will certainly at some point return to his old ways South of the border.

Anonymous said...

Big deal one extra duck,.and he was set up.Ithink the charges were way out of line.The under cover asked him to f up and it cost him the threat of a long prison term and 100,000.00.If you ever have been threatend with that kind of time. you would know even the part of him wondering how long he would have to be away from his family is an act of cruelty to a human!!!

Anonymous said...

I personally think this should be the beginning, not the end of the story. He was in the wrong and will serve time for it. Once he has repaid his debt to society, how wonderful would it be for him to introduce new calls where the proceedes are willingly donated to benifit wildlife charities? Even clever titles like "redemption" or "busted." We get the same quality call, the gaming community gets additional charity, and foiles has four years to make amends.

He was made an example. He can turn it around and BE an example. Heroes don't always start out that way. I for one hope he considers it.

Anonymous said...

All I have to say is Jeff foiles don't give a shit

River Mud said...

Outstanding comment. Agree - this doesn't have to be the end, and from my conversations with Jeff, he doesn't intend for it to be.


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Anonymous said...

Just for your info. Jeff Foiles has not changed a bit. If anything he is more brazen than before. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks and everyone will see he has sunk to a new low. If you are purchasing his merchandise beware it may end up being worthless.. "Give a guy enough rope and he will hang himself" should be his motto.

Anonymous said...

Foiles was caught and convicted. But the real story is the waste by DOJ.If the Feds want you they try to get people to anything that backs up there quest for a conviction.This is the real problem. They can break the law but use the law to convict you.