In a new twist to an old alligator story, an East Texas hunting/fishing guide is expected to plead guilty in federal court this week to a felony violation of the federal Lacey Act involving the illegal harvest of an American alligator in 2008 on the Trinity River in eastern Texas.
That’s the word from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Noble of Tyler. The prosecutor said Steve Barclay of Kennard is scheduled to enter the guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin at 2 p.m. on August 13 at the Jack Brooks Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.
For years Barclay has been part of a successful guide business on the Trinity built around hunting alligators during the spring season and targeting trophy alligator gar with bow and arrow and rod and reel. The business is called “The Gar Guys.”
When I got news about the upcoming hearing I contacted Noble for more information.
“Mr. Barclay has agreed to enter a guilty plea on one count of a felony violation of the Lacey Act, specifically involving the transportation of wildlife that was taken in violation of federal law,” Noble said in an Aug. 9 phone interview.
The Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest national wildlife protection statute. Someone who knowingly transports or sells in interstate commerce any wildlife taken or possessed in violation of state law or regulation is in violation of the Lacey Act.
The law wears some super sharp teeth. Maximum penalty for a felony violation includes up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Noble said Barclay’s plea deal comes on the the heels of a lengthy investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens. He said the investigation determined that Barclay allowed a client to kill three alligators during May 2008 when he was only allowed one by permit. Noble identified Barclay’s client as John McCall, Jr., of Grapeland.
The attorney said McCall pleaded guilty in Dec. 2012 to one misdemeanor Lacey Act violation for his part in the crime.
“Mr. McCall acknowledged in his plea that he shot three alligators in May 2008 – one on May 6, one on May 16 and another on May 20, but he was only charged with one illegal transaction… for the ‘gator he killed on May 20,” Noble said. “Since it was all so tightly grouped together in time we’re regarding it as a single criminal episode involving both men.”
Noble said McCall has not yet been sentenced, but he expects the sentencing phase to be carried out soon after Barclay enters a guilty plea for the felony violation.
Attempts to contact McCall by phone for comment were unsuccessful.
The attorney said the reason Barclay is facing the stiffer felony charge stems from the fact he was guiding McCall when the ‘gators were shot. He said the guide should have known better.
“In our view, and in the view of the USFWS and TPWD, we felt that the guide should be held to a higher standard than the typical hunter,” Noble said. “We feel like Mr. Barclay should be more familiar with the game laws. Plus, his guide service is profit motivated, so he had more incentive to violate the game laws.”
Noble added that he does not plan to push for the maximum punishment on Barclay’s sentencing. Instead, he is recommending an $8,000 fine and three years probation. Additionally, the attorney will ask that Barclay be ordered to pay $5,894 in restitution to the TPWD. The restitution fee is based on the size of the alligator, “which was not extremely large,” Noble said.
“The agreements the parties reach are subject to the approval of the court,” Noble said. “In light of that I can’t say with any certainty what punishment Mr. Barclay will receive when the sentencing takes place.”
Once Barclay’s guilty plea is entered, it could be weeks before the sentencing phase comes up, Noble said.
“The judge will order a pre-sentencing report and will ask a probation officer to prepare a report about the background of the defendant,” Noble said. “That can take a while.”
Barclay’s attorney, Joe Scott Evans of Groveton, declined to comment on the case. Barclay was contacted by phone, but also declined to comment. –Matt Williams