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Poachers who hunted on Fort Riley explosives range had crawled under fence, feds say

Fort Riley Henry Gate is shown in 2019. A trio of poachers have avoided prison but must pay thousands of dollars in fines after trespassing in a restricted area of Fort Riley, in North Central Kansas, and illegally hunting deer on the Army's weapons range.

MARGARET ZIFFER/U.S. ARMY

By JASON TIDD | The Wichita Eagle | Published: February 8, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — A trio of poachers have avoided prison but must pay thousands of dollars in fines after trespassing in a restricted area of Fort Riley and illegally hunting deer on the Army's weapons range.

The men are also banned from hunting for three years as they serve probation.

The three defendants were identified in a May 20, 2020, news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office as Gregory J. Frikken, 55, of Wamego; James C. "Cam" Nunley, 32, of Wamego; and Michael J. Smith, 55, of Watertown, New York. The charging document filed in U.S. District Court at Fort Riley listed a combined 18 criminal charges, none of which were felonies.

The case was closed Thursday after the men pleaded guilty in separate plea deals to misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and violating the Lacey Act. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped similar charges.

The Lacey Act is a federal conservation law that enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants.

"Investigators recovered evidence including deer mounts, antlers, phone data and equipment allegedly used to harvest eight whitetail deer, three of which are considered trophy class," U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in May.

The crimes happened in November and December 2018, as well as November 2019, as the men entered the restricted areas before daylight and left after dark.

In their plea deals, the men admitted they crawled under a high-wire fence that was clearly marked "off-limits" and restricted access to the impact training area of the military base. The land is used for live-fire training.

"No one is allowed in this area because ammunition is routinely detonated and the area has unexploded ordinance," the court document states.

Based at Fort Riley, the 1st Infantry Division, known as "The Big Red One," uses its impact area for training on artillery and mortars. It is surrounded by small-arms ranges for pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenades, as well as other training areas.

The artillery target area is about 4,000 acres, or a little more than 6 square miles. The entire impact area is 15,646 acres, or 24 square miles. The entire base is about 101,733 acres, or 159 square miles.

Fort Riley has regulations in place to permit legal hunting in some areas, but the impact area is always off-limits.

But Frikken, Nunley and Smith did not follow the legal process to hunt.

Nunley admitted that he conspired with Frikken "to illegally enter the unauthorized area and hunt deer without possessing the required licenses and permits." Smith also admitted that he conspired with Frikken.

Smith's plea deal states that he hunted in the impact area without permission and shot a mature whitetail buck that he took back to New York, where it was later seized by law enforcement. Smith planned to use Angela Frikken's deer tag, according to the plea agreement.

Smith was sentenced Nov. 9 to $3,500 in restitution, a $2,000 fine and a $35 assessment. Frikken was sentenced Jan. 11 to a $5,000 fine, $3,500 in restitution and a $35 assessment. Nunley was sentenced Thursday to $5,000 in restitution, a $3,500 fine and a $35 assessment.

The restitution money was to go to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism's law enforcement restitution fund. The fine money was to go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Lacey Act reward fund.

All three were also ordered to serve three years of probation, during which they are not allowed to hunt, trap or fish. They are also banned from assisting anyone else with hunting, trapping or fishing during that time.

As part of the plea deals, prosecutors agreed to recommend probation instead of prison. The Lacey Act violations to which the men pleaded guilty carried maximum penalties of a year in prison, a $10,000 fine, a year of supervised release, five years of probation, $10,000 in restitution and a $25 assessment. The trespassing charges had maximums of six months imprisonment, a $5,000 fine and a $10 assessment.

The defendants also agreed to forfeit property, including any deer or elk, as well as any sheds or skulls. Prosecutors had previously filed for the forfeiture of various items.

The forfeiture notice in the charging document includes 24 naturally shed elk antlers, 34 naturally shed deer antlers, eight whitetail buck skulls, one bull elk skull and one additional whitetail buck skull. The items were taken from Fort Riley and later seized from Frikken's home and a business.

Items seized from Nunley's home include a nine-point whitetail deer shoulder mount illegally harvested from Fort Riley in 2015, a second 18-point mount illegally harvested in 2017, a bull elk skull and one naturally shed elk antler. Seized from Smith's home was a 13-point mount illegally harvested from Fort Riley in 2017.

Additional items seized from someone identified as Z. Chambers were a 13-point mount illegally harvested in 2017 and an 11-point buck skull cap and antlers illegally harvested in 2019. Chambers is not identified anywhere else in the charging document, and no one with that name was charged in the case.

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