Suspected poachers in custody
By DARYL GADBOW of the Missoulian
Seeley couple appears before Missoula judge
Dean and Renita Ruth, the Seeley Lake couple charged with multiple felony and misdemeanor poaching violations, are in custody in the Missoula County Detention Facility after turning themselves in to local authorities Monday evening.
The Ruths had been sought by state game wardens in Montana and Pennsylvania since charges were filed against them in late December. They were considered fugitives, according to Game Warden Capt. Jeff Darrah of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The couple appeared in Missoula Justice Court on Tuesday on six felony charges each along with numerous misdemeanor charges. Justice John Odlin reduced bail for Dean Ruth to $50,000, from the $125,000 bail he originally set in the case. Odlin reduced Renita Ruth's bail from $75,000 to $25,000.
They were unable to post bail Tuesday, however.
On Tuesday, Darrah filed a dozen charges in Missoula Justice Court against six friends and family members of the Ruths from Pennsylvania for illegally purchasing Montana resident hunting licenses. A seventh friend of the Ruths from Pennsylvania also will be charged, Darrah said. He said FWP wardens plan to file six additional charges against the same individuals Wednesday for illegal taking of game animals. All the charges are misdemeanors.
Dean, 36, and Renita Ruth, 37, each face five felony counts of possession of unlawfully taken wildlife. Each charge carries maximum penalties of fines up to $50,000, prison sentences of up to five years, loss of hunting privileges for three years to life, and thousands of dollars in restitution for illegally killed game animals.
They also each face a felony charge of unlawful possession of a firearm silencer, which carries penalties under Montana law of not less than five years, and up to 20 years in prison, and a fine of not less than $1,000 and up to $20,000. Possession of a silencer also is a felony violation of federal law.
Both Ruths also face 10 misdemeanor counts of possession of illegally killed wildlife. Dean Ruth faces nine misdemeanor counts of killing over the limit of deer and elk. Renita Ruth also faces one misdemeanor charge of assisting out-of-state residents to illegally obtain Montana resident hunting licenses, and one count of killing over the limit of game.
Odlin set the following conditions of release for Dean Ruth if Ruth posts bail: no alcohol or illegal drugs, he must remain in Missoula County, have weekly contact with an attorney and "no weapons of any kind for any reason."
"You understand that, sir?" Odlin asked Ruth after explaining the weapons restriction.
"Yes sir," answered Ruth.
"I want them out of your possession," said the judge.
"OK," Ruth responded.
"I don't know about a threat to the community," Odlin said when setting bail. "But there is a threat to wildlife, by looking at the accusations."
The Ruths' attorney, Dustin Chouinard of the Missoula law firm of Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind, asked Odlin if Dean Ruth could be released on his own recognizance, saying Ruth has a job with Rainbow Enterprises, an excavation company in Seeley Lake.
"That's not going to happen," Odlin said.
Odlin ordered the same conditions of release for Renita Ruth. He also denied a request by Chouinard to release her on her own recognizance to take care of the couple's children. Two of their teen-age children are attending school in Pennsylvania, the attorney said. The third has graduated from high school.
Chouinard said he will not be representing both Ruths in the future, because there may be a "conflict of their interests" as the case progresses. Odlin appointed a public defender for Renita Ruth.
State wardens and other law enforcement officers went to the Ruths' residence on Woodworth Road southeast of Seeley Lake on New Year's Eve to arrest them. But Dean and Renita and their three children were gone.
Wardens learned that the Ruth family had traveled to Pennsylvania where they lived before moving to the Seeley Lake area about a decade ago and where they have relatives.
On Jan. 16, approximately 40 Pennsylvania Game Commission officers, six Pennsylvania state troopers, along with Darrah and FWP warden Joe Jaquith, searched the Ruth family's 12-acre property near Pleasantville, Pa.
Officers found Dean and Renita Ruth's vehicle, and their three teen-age children, but not the couple.
However, Darrah said, arresting the Montana couple was not the first priority of the Pennsylvania search.
"Our trip to Pennsylvania was not so much to look for Dean and Renita," Darrah said. "Our trip was to assist Pennsylvania authorities. If they were there, we would have picked them up."
Darrah and Jaquith helped the Pennsylvania authorities search for evidence linked to a large white-tailed deer buck and black bear that were allegedly poached in Pennsylvania, but which were recovered by FWP wardens in Montana in the possession of Dean Ruth. Those charges are pending in Pennsylvania, Darrah said.
In Pennsylvania, Darrah said, officers searched two residences, one owned by Gale "Tense" Ruth, Dean's father, and one owned by Nicola Alfeo, a friend of the Ruths.
"We seized several items of contraband" from Alfeo's residence "that connected him with the Ruths," Darrah said.
"The warrants there were for their cases more than ours," he added. "But we were there to see if they had any connection with our case."
Darrah said authorities believed Dean and Renita Ruth were at the Ruth compound in Pennsylvania when the wardens were there.
"There's no doubt they were in Pennsylvania when we were there," Darrah said. "The kids were enrolled in school there. Dean's vehicle was at the Ruth compound, locked in a garage. We had several discussions with family members, who told us Dean and Renita were afraid, and didn't know what to do. We strongly encouraged them to tell Dean and Renita to turn themselves in. And family members said they would."
"We think they went out there for a vacation and when they got there, they got scared," he added. "We're glad they came back."
Darrah said he was aware of criticism "on the street" of FWP wardens for not immediately arresting the Ruths after serving a search warrant at their property on Nov. 15. During the search, wardens found a large volume of highly incriminating evidence, including 108 skulls and antlers of allegedly illegally killed deer and elk, a firearm silencer, numerous hand-held spotlights, and hundreds of "kill pictures" showing family members and others posing with dead game animals.
"We've heard public sentiment that said, 'Why didn't you arrest them when you first went in?' and 'You went all the way to Pennsylvania and didn't find them,' " Darrah said. "The initial reason we didn't arrest them, and the biggest reason we didn't arrest them right at first, was we didn't know what we had. We knew it was serious. And it appeared to be a volume of violations. But it really needed to be sorted out before an arrest was made."
When wardens found the silencer, Darrah said, they weren't sure about their jurisdiction. Later they learned possession of a silencer is a felony violation of a Montana statue, as well as a felony violation of federal law.
"I think in retrospect," said Darrah, "say we did arrest them right away. There's no way we would have sorted through things. We never would have had the magnitude of the bond or charges. They would have been released right away on a small bond."
Darrah said he filed misdemeanor charges of illegally obtaining Montana resident hunting licenses against Gale "Tense" Ruth, Dean's father; Gale Ruth, Dean's brother; another Gale Ruth, Dean's nephew; Jim Ruth; Nicola Alfeo; and Joel Mellon, Dean's brother-in-law. One more person will be charged, according to Darrah.
FWP will not seek extradition of the Pennsylvania men on the charges, Darrah said.
However, if they fail to appear on the charges, he said, a warrant will be issued for their arrest and be enforced if they should ever return to Montana. They could also lose their hunting privileges in Montana, Darrah said.
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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