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Montana man enters plea to role in illegal hunting scheme

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A Louisiana man who recruited big game hunters to come to Montana, where they illegally hunted elk and deer, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to violate a federal wildlife act.

Anthony Bazile, 61, of Braithwaite, La., was accused of bringing clients back and forth from Billings to the Frenchman Valley Ranch near Saco, where he cooked for them, told them which hunting stands to use and provided residence tags for those who shot bucks or bulls without a license.

In return, Bazile pocketed $500 from every client when recruited and kept at least $1,200 in a hunting fee each year during his five-week stay at the ranch. Prosecutors say the scheme ran for five years until investigators with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks learned of it in 2003.

More than 50 nonresident hunters killed game while being illegally housed and outfitted on the ranch. Investigators have since seized more than 40 trophy mounts of poached animals from clients, who were fined for participating in the illegal hunts.

On Monday, Bazile pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, which regulates the sale, transportation and purchase of wildlife. A second count was dropped as part of a plea agreement. Bazile's sentencing is set for Aug. 5.

Three members of the Bergtoll family, which owns the ranch, pleaded guilty in February to federal charges stemming from the investigation. Leo Bergtoll, 74, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count. His wife, Anna Lou Bergtoll, 68, and their son, 44-year-old Darrel Bergtoll, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act. The Bergtolls were indicted separately from Bazile and are to be sentenced June 17.