Six Mississippi men and another from Baton Rouge, La., are among those allegedly charged with illegal hunting and filming in Alaska, all related to an outdoor television show on the Sportsman Channel, according to the Alaska Dispatch News of Anchorage.
In response, The Sportsman Channel immediately announced its cancellation of the program Syndicate Hunting, a show described online as following four avid hunters who make up a core group of hosts and “bring their hunting heritage and lifestyle to the screen and to their fans.”
Charged in separate cases were Clark W. Dixon, 41, of Hazelhurst, Miss.; Charles W. Dixon, 70, of Brookhaven, Miss.; Randolph Goza, 48, of Wasilla, AK.; Terry Goza, 71, of Hazelhurst, Miss.; Clarence Michael Osborne, 53, of Madison, Miss.; Shannon Dale Hooks, 54, of Mendenhall, Miss.; Lance David Walker, 37, of Baton Rouge, La.; Fulton Josef Wold, 41, of Nashville, Tenn.; and Robert Scott Viner, 40, of Ridgeland, Miss.
Alaskan and federal officials said they conducted a four-year investigation into alleged illegal hunting activities in Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska before announcing the charges in Anchorage on Monday, the Alaska Dispatch News of Anchorage reported.
The charges allege dozens of big game animals, including grizzly bears, moose, caribou and Dall sheep, were illegally hunted and killed — and that some of the illegal kills ended up on the cable television show, the news site reported
Clark Dixon and Lance Walker were Syndicate Hunting hosts until fired after the investigation became public, according to the Syndicate Hunting's Facebook page.
Dixon faces the most serious charges, the news report shows. Both were fired by the program during the investigation, according to a post on the TV show’s Facebook page.
Prosecutors said Clark Dixon was instrumental to the alleged crimes, as he allegedly ran an illegal camp in the preserve, according to the website. He has never been an Alaska resident but aided hunters lacking the correct tags in the taking of game without a guiding license, prosecutors said. The charged hunts allegedly occurred the same day the clients landed.
U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler said on the website that the charges are the result of a four-year investigation.
“Illegal big-game poaching causes a lot of damage,” Loeffler said during a Monday press conference.
The breadth of the investigation and a lack of resources for agencies operating in rural Alaska — like the National Park Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game —resulted in years of evidence gathering, she said.
“The gathering of evidence for the case didn’t just take place in Alaska. It was a lot of ground to cover,” added Chris Smith, the Park Service special agent in charge.
According to the charges, “all of Clark W. Dixon’s Alaska hunts, including but not limited to those featured on Syndicate Hunting from 2011 to the present, were conducted illegally. Each Alaska hunt, depicted on Syndicate Hunting, falsely portrayed, due to selective editing or other means, the apparently legal take of Alaska big game when in truth in fact all of the Alaska big game animals documented on Syndicate Hunting were illegally killed.”
The charges allege that about Sept. 13, 2010, Clark Dixon illegally killed a brown bear. The second charge against Dixon accuses him of illegally transporting game from 2009 to the present.
Randolph Goza and Charles Dixon, Clark’s father, allegedly assisted in the operation, Loeffler said. The government is seeking the forfeiture of Clark Dixon’s aircraft, a Stol Quest SQ-4, if he’s convicted, prosecutors said.
Lance Walker is another host on the cable show, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki confirmed. Walker faces two misdemeanor charges for violating the Lacey Act, a conservation law prohibiting the sale of illegally taken wildlife.
Walker is alleged to have killed a brown bear on or about Sept. 20, 2011, without being accompanied by a registered big-game guide in Noatak’s Kelly River drainage, according to the charges. He allegedly killed and then transported the bear without having two required permits, the charges say.
Prosecutors allege Walker also allowed Clark Dixon, who was fraudulently claiming to be an Alaska resident, to make a false report to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to cover up his illegal kill, according to the charges
The second misdemeanor charged against Walker alleges he killed and transported a wolf that same month, also in the Kelly River drainage, with the help of an unregistered guide.
The Park Service issued two citations to the production companies for filming on the preserve. Loeffler said the footage was edited to make the hunts appear legal.
Randall and Terry Goza, Michael Osborne, Shannon Hooks and Fulton Wold were separately charged in misdemeanor cases.
With the exception of Hooks, who allegedly hunted near Beluga, the defendants allegedly hunted out of the illegal campsite, taking bear, moose, caribou and Dall sheep, prosecutors said.
Viner was charged with and pleaded guilty to transporting an unlawfully taken brown bear, according to reports. He has paid a $3,250 fine, prosecutors said.
Osborne, charged with illegally taking a brown bear the same day he arrived in Noatak by plane and killing a bull moose without the proper locking tag, has entered into a plea agreement that recommends a $65,000 fine and seven years of probation, which includes a no-hunting condition, according to prosecutors. Osborne agreed to restitution of $19,500 for both animals to be paid to the preserve, the officials said.
Noatak National Preserve includes 6.8 million acres of protected land in Northwestern Alaska. State- and federal-regulated hunting is permitted in the preserve.
According to a post on the Syndicate Hunting Facebook page, “Upon being informed by the authorities of charges against Mr. Clark Dixon and Mr. Lance Walker they were terminated immediately by Syndicate Hunting. Mr. Dixon and Mr. Walker solely conducted their activities without the knowledge of Syndicate Hunting, and no other representatives of Syndicate Hunting were present during their actions. Syndicate Hunting nor the managing members of Syndicate Hunting have not been charged with any illegal activities.
“The managing team of Syndicate Hunting were assured that all permits, including film permits were in order. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The management team of Syndicate Hunting accepts full responsibility for not confirming that all permits were issued.”