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A big game outfitter reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors regarding illegal mountain lion hunting practices uncovered by authorities in 2013. He will be the fourth of five men charged in the matter to accept a plea agreement.
Ernest Jablonsky, a Plains outfitter with Montana Big Game Pursuits, is scheduled to plead guilty next week to federal charges related to an illegal mountain lion hunt in 2013 near Prickly Pear Creek on U.S. Forest Service lands, prosecutors said in court documents filed Friday.
In exchange, prosecutors said in court documents they will dismiss charges stemming from a February 2013 mountain lion hunt near White Sulphur Springs, when authorities alleged Jablonsky also committed illegal practices like guiding without a permit and telling hunters to lie to state hunting officials about his involvement.
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Jablonsky, 51-year-old outfitter at Montana Big Game Pursuits, is one of five men indicted in 2017 on federal charges relating to the two hunts. After his change of plea hearing, scheduled for Feb. 26, he will join three of those men who have taken plea deals in their respective cases; one man continues to fight charges, according to court records.
According to court documents, Jablonsky summoned two Wisconsin men, including co-defendant Jeffrey Perlewitz, to Montana in December 2013, when he reportedly had an open schedule for new outfitting clients. Jablonsky, court records say, did not have the required special use permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service to legally guide or outfit mountain lion hunts on federal land, where he and the Wisconsin hunters drove his pickup around the remote roads looking for cat tracks on Dec. 13 that year.
James Day, according to court records, worked the hunt as a hound dog handler, and successfully treed a lion, which Perlewitz shot and killed with his bow. That day he paid Jablonsky $1,500 for the hunt, but when he checked his lion in with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks the next day, Perlewitz reportedly said he had only used the services of the dog handler, and that his hunt was not outfitted.
In his required report to the Montana Board of Outfitters, Jablonsky never listed Perlewitz as a client, according to charging documents.
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The plea agreement in Jablonsky’s case has been sealed, but federal prosecutors in court documents wrote that Jablonsky is willing to plead guilty to unspecified charges in the case following the hunt with Perlewitz in exchange for their dismissal of a February 2013 hunt near White Sulphur Springs.
Perlewitz is the only defendant in the case who has not taken a plea deal offered by federal prosecutors. In January, a judge granted a time extension requested by both parties to continue preparing for trial.
Perlewitz was indicted on Oct. 23 on charges including conspiracy to illegally hunt and kill mountain lions, illegal sale of outfitted mountain lion hunts and false labeling; in total, he could face a possible 15 years in prison and more than $250,000 in fines.
Day, the dog handler, pleaded guilty on Dec. 19 to the illegal sale of mountain lion hunts, which carries a possible five-year prison sentence and a maximum $250,000 fine. His sentencing has been set for April 3.
Mitch Theule, a guide with Montana Big Game Pursuits, pleaded guilty on Feb. 12 to aiding and abetting the interstate transport and possession of an illegally killed mountain lion, which carries a possible one-year prison term and maximum $10,000 fine. His sentencing has been set for June 13.
Theule’s case stems from the February 2013 near White Sulphur Springs, when Jablonsky, Day and Theule reportedly brought Richard Ceynar, of North Dakota, mountain lion hunting on national forest land where Jablonsky did not have the permits to outfit or guide.
According to court documents, the four men, and an unnamed associate of Ceynar, went hunting on Feb. 7 and late that afternoon treed a lion near the top of a steep mountain. Day and Theule reportedly went up the mountain by snowmobile, while Jablonsky and Ceynar got stuck on a different route. As Jablonsky and Ceynar traveled to the tree on foot, they communicated with the others with two-way radios, charging documents state.
When Ceynar shot the treed lion, it was past legal shooting hours, according to court documents. Additionally, authorities say Theule had illuminated the lion with a headlamp while Ceynar shot.
Like the case with Perlewitz’s hunt, Ceynar reported to FWP that his hunt was not outfitted, according to court documents. And when the North Dakota hunters paid Jablonsky for the hunt, the memo on the check read “two elk hunts.” Prosecutors allege they did so at Jablonsky’s direction.
Ceynar pleaded guilty on Dec. 22 to conspiracy to interstate transportation and possession of an illegally killed mountain lion. His sentencing is set for April 6.