Four Men Fined After Illegally Sport Hunting from Helicopter
LAREDO, Texas – Four men have been sentenced after their involvement in illegal sport hunting from a helicopter in violation of the federal Airborne Hunting Act, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. In September and October of 2018, Cody Morganthaler, 36, of Oklahoma, pleaded guilty along with Edelmiro Martinez, 33, Eduardo Lopez, 39, and Inocente Sanchez, 56, all of Laredo.
Today, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison sentenced Morganthaler, Martinez, and Lopez to the maximum allowed fine of $5,000, all of whom must also serve one year of probation. Sanchez was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and must also serve the year of probation. While on probation, all of the men will not be allowed to possess firearms for personal sporting purposes.
“This case is an excellent example of the cooperative investigative efforts between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Game Wardens of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD),” said Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge of FWS-Office of Law Enforcement - Southwest Region. “We take very seriously our mission and will continue to concentrate on and aggressively pursue individuals who are involved in the illegally taking of wildlife in Texas. We would like to thank the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecuting this case and holding these individuals accountable."
At the hearing today, all four defendants claimed that while they knowingly engaged in the hunt, they did not know it was a crime to hunt animals from the air for sporting purposes. Judge Ellison noted he did not believe those claims.
Prior to the weekend of Oct. 14, 2017, Morganthaler booked a hunt at the Laredo Hunting Resort in Laredo, which Martinez owned. Lopez organized the hunt. A total of $12,000 was paid on Morganthaler’s behalf to hunt four exotic animals - an addax, a mouflon, an aoudad and a blackbuck antelope.
On Oct. 14, Morganthaler was able to locate, shoot and kill the addax and mouflon from the ground. Due to a time shortage, Lopez suggested Morganthaler shoot the remaining two animals from a helicopter. Morganthaler and Martinez agreed.
The following day, Sanchez piloted his helicopter with Morganthaler and Lopez as passengers. Morganthaler then used a rifle to locate, shoot and kill the aoudad and blackbuck antelope from within the helicopter for the purpose of trophy-hunting.
“The circumstances in this particular case would make any sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts furious,” said Kevin Winters, Texas Game Warden. “The fact that these individuals organized a trophy hunt from a helicopter, which resulted in the harvesting of a trophy Aoudad (Barbary Sheep) and Blackbuck (Antelope), is unethical and is a violation of both state and federal laws. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens strive to protect our states natural resources.”
It is a violation of the federal Airborne Hunting Act to use an aircraft to shoot for the purpose of capturing or killing an animal for sport or trophy-hunting. Under federal law, any animals, weapons or aircraft which are involved or used to commit the violation are subject to forfeiture to the United States.
The FWS conducted the investigation with the assistance of the TPWD. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher dos Santos prosecuted the case.