William Esley Hugs, Jr. Sentenced in U.S. District Cour
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings, on May 2, 2012, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull, WILLIAM ESLEY HUGS, JR., a 23-year-old resident of Hardin, appeared for sentencing. HUGS was sentenced to a term of:
- Prison: 360 days (time served)
- Special Assessment: $500
- Restitution: $98,500
- Supervised Release: 3 years
HUGS was sentenced in connection with his guilty plea to trafficking in eagles and hawks.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark S. Smith, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks got a call on their TIP (Turn In Poachers) hotline on November 2, 2010. The caller said a group of people were killing and selling eagles around Hardin. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service criminal investigators learned through a confidential private informant that eagle feathers and parts could be purchased at the Hugs ranch, about five miles south of Hardin.
On December 5, 2010, the informant went to the ranch, and there met William E. Hugs, Sr., and WILLIAM E. HUGS, JR. Senior offered to sell eagle plume feathers to the informant for $30, and three golden eagle wings for $75 (all eagle and hawk parts purchased by the informant and referenced herein were later confirmed by laboratory analysis to be from the species represented). The informant agreed to buy these items for $100. JUNIOR then offered for sale, and sold to the informant, another two golden eagle wings for $100. Senior then offered for sale, and sold to the informant, a golden eagle tail, for $300.
The men began to discuss other eagle parts, and eagle bones were mentioned. Marc Little Light had joined the group, and said he had "a bunch of those." Senior then asked the informant if he was interested in hawk tails. The informant said yes. JUNIOR went to the house and brought back five hawk tails, which he sold to the informant for $100.
As the informant was getting ready to leave, Marc Little Light said he would later bring his eagle bones to the informant's hotel. The informant agreed. Later the night of December 5, 2010, Marc Little Light offered to sell, and sold to the informant for $50, a white plastic bag filled with 20 eagle bones.
On December 6, 2010, the informant went back to the Hugs ranch. Senior offered to sell the informant the tails of two hawks that he had killed earlier that day. The informant agreed, and paid $60 for the two hawk tails. The Hugs continued offering for sale, and selling dead eagles and eagle and hawk parts throughout December, and into 2011, as follows:
On December 22, 2010, Senior told the informant he had gotten a golden eagle for the informant. Senior offered to sell, and sold, the golden eagle tail and wings to the informant for $600.
On December 23, 2010, Senior offered for sale, and sold, six hawk tails to the informant for $300.
On January 6, 2011, Senior offered to sell a bald eagle tail to the informant for $300.
On January 7, 2011, Senior offered to sell, and sold to the informant, two bald eagle wings, and a tail, for $300.
On January 11, 2011, Senior sent two text messages to the informant indicating that he had killed a bald eagle.
On January 14, 2011, Senior offered to sell, and sold to the informant, a whole carcass bald eagle, for $300. JUNIOR also offered to sell, and sold to the informant, a whole carcass bald eagle, for $300.
On January 18, 2011, Senior sent the informant a whole carcass golden eagle to replace another that had been damaged in shipping.
The informant met JUNIOR and Senior in Billings on February 19, 2011. JUNIOR got into the informant's vehicle to show him the way to a restaurant. On their way, JUNIOR showed, and offered to sell, the tail of a hawk that JUNIOR had just killed on the drive from Hardin to Billings.
On February 20, 2011, Senior called the informant and said he had killed an immature golden eagle that morning. The informant said he was interested in buying the eagle, and would drive to the Hugs ranch. The informant met Hugs JUNIOR and Senior at their ranch. JUNIOR removed a freshly killed golden eagle from the bed of their truck. Senior said he wanted $600 for the bird. The informant offered $500. JUNIOR and Senior discussed it, and agreed to accept $500.
JUNIOR then offered to sell the informant multiple bald eagle wings, and a single bald eagle tail. The informant bought these items for $200 on February 23, 2011.
Senior and LIttle Light pled guilty to federal charges and are awaiting sentencing.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that HUGS will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, HUGS does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior." However, this reduction will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.