HONOLULU - A Maui hunting ranch owner on Thursday pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for taking an unlicensed hunter to shoot game animals in a case stemming from a broader investigation into the interisland smuggling of harmful invasive species for hunting.
Jeffrey Grundhauser faces up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 1 at U.S District Court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Song told a judge that Grundhauser took an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent hunting in June 2011 even though the agent said he didn't have a Hawaii hunting license.
Axis deer are seen near Makawao. A ranch owner has pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for taking an unlicensed hunter to shoot game animals in a case stemming from a broader investigation into the interisland smuggling of harmful invasive species for hunting.
AP file photo
The agent, who was posing as a hunter from Oregon, killed two axis deer and one mouflon sheep. He paid $1,250 for Grundhauser's guide services.
The ranch owner's attorney, David Hayakawa, noted that his client wasn't charged for flying the animals between islands by helicopter, which is the aspect of the case that has gotten the most media attention.
"He took responsibility for what he did wrong: taking an unlicensed hunter on a guided hunt, which will never happen again," Hayakawa said after the hearing.
Hayakawa said Grundhauser provided two female and one male deer to a Big Island individual, but he believed that the animals would be kept in pens. Hayakawa said Grundhauser in exchange received 11 Big Island sheep for his Maui ranch, but he stressed that the animals were kept in enclosed areas at all times and are all accounted-for.
The case has grabbed the attention of state and federal officials because the deer and sheep have destroyed forests, crops and ranch land on Hawaiian islands where they are established.
State fish and game officials introduced axis deer to Maui in the 1950s. Maui County estimates the animals caused $1 million in damage to the island's farms, ranches and resorts over the past two years. The state never introduced axis deer to the Big Island, but sightings of the animals on that island have increased in the past few years, and invasive species officials believe people have been smuggling them to the island to expand hunting opportunities.
The Big Island Invasive Species Committee estimates there may be about 100 deer on the island now. It's trying to eradicate the deer before they become established in numbers big enough to cause large-scale harm to the island's forests, wildlife and agriculture.
The sheep brought to Maui are a hybrid of two sheep types introduced to Hawaii in past years: feral sheep and mouflon sheep native to islands off the coast of Italy. The animals have destroyed forest on the slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island but hadn't been introduced to Maui.
Hayakawa said that his client runs a small ecotourism business using a sustainable resource, and he helps the community. He said it's difficult to profitably raise cattle with ongoing drought.
On Monday, a Maui helicopter pilot who flew animals for Grundhauser pleaded guilty to loading deer on helicopters and flying them from Maui to the Big Island.
Song said that Thomas Leroy Hauptman flew four axis deer from Maui. He brought about a dozen mouflon sheep with him to Maui from the Big Island.
Hauptman also could be sentenced to up to a year in prison. His defense suggested he receive probation and perform community service by flying 500 hours in his helicopter working for the group fighting to eradicate axis deer from the Big Island. He's scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 18.