A big game case involving 30 citations against seven persons after a two-month investigation by Oregon State Police in Wallowa County is receiving statewide attention because of the name of one of the defendants - Mark Hemstreet.
Hemstreet, 54, is the owner of the Shilo Inn chain of motels, as well as the Shilo Ranch near Troy, and has long been a controversial figure in the state and in Wallowa County.
Hemstreet, family members and associates have been cited with a total of 30 misdemeanor game charges - many of them involving borrowing and loaning tags while hunting on the Shilo Ranch. The case made front-page news in the Portland Oregonian last Wednesday before it was officially released to the press by the Enterprise OSP office.
"They leaked the whole thing to the Oregonian before the district attorney even had the citations from the police," said Hemstreet's attorney Rahn Hostetter. He said he suspected "higher ups" in Portland "got all excited" before charges were even filed. "I think they're motivated beyond justice to catch someone big."
He said the Hemstreets plan to vigorously defend themselves against the charges.
'Like any other game case'
The misdemeanor charges carry with them the maximum sentence of one year in jail and $6,250 fine. Wallowa County District Attorney Dan Ousley said Friday that he had not yet filed the charges in circuit court, as he had not yet received the final OSP report. "I realize this is a high-profile case, but I'm going to treat it like any other game case." Ousley said that normally game charges, especially for those being charged for the first time, do not result in jail time.
The case revolves around the illegal killing of four bull elk and one bear during the 2004 hunting season, according to OSP. Three search warrants were obtained and served in the case, one at the Shilo Ranch in November and three in Portland in December.
Investigation into the case started when one defendant, Gordon Caudle, 38, of Hillsboro, was cited in November after OSP Trooper Brad Duncan and Sgt. Bill Ables stopped him on Powwatka Road with four bull elk in the back of a pickup.
According to the OSP search warrant affidavits, Caudle eventually admitted that he used the tag of David Forni, 48, of Tigard, on one of the elk he had killed and that he had forged Forni's name on the tag and on the transportation slip.
"He said that he knew it was against the law to shoot someone else's elk and borrow their tag to validate," states the search warrants, prepared by Duncan. "He said it was the 'Shilo Way' and has been for quite some time. He explained that this is Mark Hemstreet's way of doing things."
Caudle further explained that there were a "pot" of tags at the ranch, which were used to validate animals killed there. Caudle was subsequently cited for two counts of unlawful taking of bull elk, borrowing a big game tag and criminal possession of a forged instrument.
The six other defendants on the case were served with their citations on Jan. 7, all but Clapper's at the office of Rahn Hostetter. During the investigation, Hemstreet reportedly requested that further communication be made through Hostetter.
Claim of entrapment
Hostetter said that OSP officers had earlier tried to entrap Hemstreet and others in game violations before the current investigation through decoys and road closures. "Oregon Fish and Game officers hatched a plan to try to catch Mark Hemstreet and others at his ranch violating game laws. Why? That's a very good question and one I'd like answered," said Hostetter. He said that most of the Hemstreet family was not even in Wallowa County during the period covered by the citations.
Hostetter said the Oregon State Police union has spread the word among members not to stay at Hemstreet's hotels because of a political stand he took on a ballot measure in 1994.
Hostetter said Hemstreet had received a number of wildlife awards from OSP prior to 1994.
"We are going to pursue complaints against certain police officers for crimes they committed themselves," Hostetter said.
Among charges against Mark Hemstreet is that he falsely applied for resident Oregon hunting licenses for five years (2000-2004). OSP gave Rancho Mirage, Calif., as Hemstreet's address. Hemstreet was also charged with unlawful taking of a bull elk (no valid tag), two counts of aiding in a game violation (unlawful taking of a bull elk and unlawful taking of mule deer buck), loaning a big game tag and borrowing a big game tag.
Hemstreet's wife Shannon, son Brian and daughter Staci MacDonald were also cited.
Shannon Hemstreet, 38, whose address is also listed as Rancho Mirage, Calif., was cited for unlawful taking of a bull elk (no valid tag), loaning a bull elk tag, loaning a black bear tag and five counts of false application for a resident license and tag.
Brian Hemstreet, 32, of Portland, was cited for unlawful taking of a black bear (no valid tag), borrowing a big game tag (black bear) and two counts of aiding in game violation (unlawful taking bull elk).
Staci McDonald, 28, of Portland, was cited for loaning a big game tag.
Forni was cited for loaning a bull elk tag, aiding in a game violation (unlawful taking bull elk) and tampering with evidence.
Greg Clapper, 54, Portland, was cited for exceeding the bag limit of elk, failure to immediately validate an elk tag, illegal possession of elk, borrowing a big game tag (bull elk), and possession of a controlled substance (less than ounce of marijuana).
Search warrants issued on Dec. 20 were served in the Portland area at the Forni and Clapper residences. Items to search for at both places included wildlife parts, specifically but not limited to elk and bear parts; any illegal big game parts; any film, video or computer files depicting hunting photos from the Shilo Ranch; and any Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tags, validated or not. At the Clapper residence a .338 Weatherby rifle was also on the list and on the Forni warrant was listed "all ODFW licenses and tags taken from Shilo Ranch."
All the defendants are cited to appear in Wallowa Count Circuit Court on March 2.
Hostetter said that the defendants, including the Hemstreets cooperated with the officers during the investigation "so much so it was very disappointing that the police chose to execute search warrants."
One of the frivolous charges against Hemstreet is that he is not an Oregon resident.
of Oregon, according to the attorney. Though Mark and Shannon Hemstreets have homes in different places, Hostetter said that they have always been Oregon residents, paying Oregon income taxes.
OSP officers did not comment on specifics of the case other than to refer the search warrant affidavits and to say they would present their evidence at trial.