FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks hunter who played a key role in convicted militia leader Schaeffer Cox’s Alaska Peacemakers Militia agreed Monday to pay a $10,000 fine for shipping a set of illegal moose antlers to a friend in Michigan almost four years ago.
Leslie P. Zerbe, 67, was sentenced Monday to pay the fine after pleading guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate transport of unlawfully taken and possessed game. A federal judge also stripped Zerbe’s hunting privileges for two years.
In an unusual twist, Zerbe claims he found $14,000 in cash waiting for him in his pickup truck after paying the fine.
“When I got done paying that fine and went back to my vehicle, somebody had put $14,000 cash in my vehicle,” Zerbe said. “That covered my fine and my attorney fees. I don’t have a clue who did that.”
Zerbe was second in command of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia founded by Cox in 2008. The militia, which Cox claimed to number as many as 3,500 armed men, landed in the spotlight after Cox and three of his associates — Zerbe wasn’t among them — were arrested in 2011 and later convicted on charges that included amassing weapons and conspiring to kill a federal judge and other government employees in a plot known as “241.” Cox is now serving a 26-year prison sentence.
According to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Zerbe and a friend from Michigan killed a bull moose in the Ferry Trail Management Area in game management unit 20A, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, in September 2009. State hunting regulations require moose in that area to have antlers that are at least 50 inches wide or have at least four brow tines on one side. The moose the two hunters killed had an antler spread of just more than 42 inches with three brow tines on each side, according to prosecutors.
Zerbe, who has a cabin less than 2 miles from the kill site and had hunted in the area for several years, knew about the antler restrictions but did not report the sub-legal moose to Alaska Wildlife Troopers, prosecutors said. Instead, Zerbe shipped the antlers to his friend in Michigan, who took them to a taxidermist to have them mounted, according to prosecutors.
A federal agent visiting the taxidermy shop noticed the antlers did not have a tag denoting they were taken by a non-resident and alerted wildlife troopers in Alaska, Zerbe said. Troopers then notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of the federal violations involved.
In a phone interview with the News-Miner, Zerbe said the state and federal governments had no proof that he sent the antlers to Michigan or that he knew the moose was too small when he and the hunter from Michigan shot it. The antlers could have shrunk after he shipped them to Michigan or the taxidermist could have altered them somehow to make them smaller, he said.
He agreed to the plea deal because fighting the federal charges “ain’t worth the hassle sometimes.”
“It’ll cost $10,000 in lawyers fees, and you’re dealing with a jury system that doesn’t work so well,” he said. “The feds threaten you with all kinds of worse stuff, and you end up plea bargaining because they make other things so nasty.”
Zerbe said he doesn’t remember much about the hunt because it was five years ago. He said the two hunters shot the moose at the same time as it was running away from them because they thought it was a legal animal. When the case landed in court, Zerbe said, “since I’m Alaskan, I just simply claimed fault in the thing.”
Kevin Feldis, chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney’s office, said, “there’s no doubt” Zerbe knew the moose was too small when he shipped the antlers to Michigan.
“There’s no dispute this was known to be an illegal moose,” Feldis said. “The evidence showed it was Mr. Zerbe who was the person who was taking the lead on this hunt and who orchestrated the shipment of the antlers.”
The hunter from Michigan, who was not identified in Monday’s news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, was not charged in the case.
Part of the reason for the stiff fine is this was Zerbe’s second hunting violation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cooper said. Zerbe was fined $5,000 for killing a grizzly in Glacier Bay National Park in 1994, he said.
A conservative, Zerbe said his case demonstrates that the federal government values animal life more than human life because the government pays doctors to perform abortions at Planned Parenthood using taxpayer money, which he equates to pre-meditated murder.
“They won’t make me pay for killing a child and being an accomplice to murder, but they’ll make me pay for shooting a moose that’s 4 inches too short,” Zerbe said. “The bottom line is this country is screwed up.”