Guide will plead guilty in illegal hunting case
The hunting guide accused of taking out-of-state hunters on illegal deer and turkey hunts will plead guilty to the charges filed against him Wednesday in federal court, his attorney said Thursday.
Adam L. Lawinger, 27, was building a business doing what he loved, but got into trouble by giving the customers what they wanted - big bucks - regardless of hunting regulations, said his attorney, Marcus Berghahn.
"It's what the hunters wanted," Berghahn said. "They wanted the trophy buck. They didn't want rules."
Lawinger, who ran Blue River Outfitters in southern Richland County, was charged with conspiring to sell wildlife that was taken illegally and transported out of state. He is also charged with selling two illegally hunted white-tailed bucks that were transported across state lines. Lawinger will plead guilty to the charges at his first court appearance, which has yet to be scheduled, Berghahn said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim O'Shea, who is prosecuting the case, said he couldn't comment.
Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, but Berghahn said it is likely that Lawinger would serve a sentence of less than five years. He said Lawinger is willing to own up to his mistakes and take whatever punishment comes from them.
Three out-of-state hunters were also charged in federal court with transporting illegally taken deer across state lines. Another 42 hunters were charged in Iowa and Richland counties with various hunting-related violations. In all, the hunters came from 11 states, including one from Wisconsin
At a news conference Thursday in Richland Center, state and federal officials displayed a wall of confiscated hunting weapons, mounted turkeys and trophy bucks. Randy Stark, state Department of Natural Resources chief warden, said this was likely the largest case in Wisconsin involving a hunting guide and clients. He called it "a theft of a resource owned by all Wisconsin citizens" and decried the emphasis on "trophy hunting."
"The role of fair chase, not just shooting an animal, is critical to the future of fair hunting," said Stark.
Lawinger ran Blue River Outfitters on property that he was buying on a land contract, Berghahn said. It reverted back to its original owner after state and federal investigators searched it in May. Lawinger now lives with family members in Mineral Point.
After an investigation in which three state and federal officials worked undercover as hunters, game wardens arrived in Blue River early May 2, Berghahn said. Lawinger sat them down, cooked them breakfast, and proceeded to give them a 13-hour statement in which he confessed to everything, Berghahn said.
"He spilled his guts," he said. "He admitted to everything."
That night, Lawinger's home and business were searched. The same day, the home of an unindicted co- conspirator near Spring Green was also searched.
Berghahn said Lawinger grew up in Mineral Point and later attended school in Madison, but his interest was in doing what he loved most - hunting. He and his father found the property in Blue River, and advertised the guide service. Before long, Lawinger was attracting clients looking for big white-tailed bucks.
Much of the hunting took place on land that was owned or leased by the Spring Green man, who also served as a mentor to Lawinger, instructing him on tending his property and feeding deer. The price Lawinger had to pay to take his clients hunting on the man's land increased steadily until it caused tension between the two, Berghahn said.
"He's a good kid who wanted to make a living but got led down the wrong path," Berghahn said. "He's a very honest and straightforward kid."