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80-year-old man pleads guilty to genetically engineering giant hybrid sheep in audacious scheme, DOJ announces

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(GREAT FALLS, Mont.) — A Montana man pleaded guilty before a federal judge to two felony wildlife crimes for an almost decade-long effort to create giant sheep hybrids to sell the species to hunting facilities, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week.

Eighty-year-old Arthur “Jack” Schubarth of Vaughn, Montana, is the owner and operator of Sun River Enterprises LLC – also known as Schubarth Ranch – a 215-acre “alternative livestock” ranch, according to a March 12 press release from the DOJ.

Schubarth conspired with at least five other individuals between 2013 and 2021 to genetically engineer a larger hybrid sheep species that would garner higher prices from shooting preserves, according to the release, which cites court documents in his case.

“This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) said in the release.

Schubarth faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

To genetically engineer the sheep species, the DOJ said Schubarth imported parts of Marco Polo argali sheep, which is the largest sheep species in the world, from Kyrgyzstan into the U.S. without declaring the importation.

Schubarth sent genetic material from the argali sheep to a lab to create cloned embryos, which he then implanted in a female sheep on his ranch, according to the DOJ, which produced a single, pure genetic male that Schubarth named the “Montana Mountain King,” or MMK.

To create several hybrid sheep, Schubarth then used MMK’s semen to artificially impregnate various species of female sheep, the DOJ said.

“The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana,” Ron Howell, Chief of Enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), said in the release.

Schubarth and the unnamed conspirators wanted to sell the larger and “more valuable” genetically hybrid sheep to captive hunting facilities, primarily in Texas, according to the DOJ. In order to move the hybrid sheep across state lines, Schubarth “forged veterinary inspection certificates, falsely claiming that the sheep were legally permitted species,” the federal agency said.

Schubarth also sold MMK’s semen directly to sheep breeders outside of Montana, according to the DOJ, and illegally obtained genetic material from wild-hunted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Montana for interstate commerce.

On Tuesday, Schubarth pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Great Falls, Montana to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and substantively violating the Lacey Act.

“In pursuit of this scheme, Schubarth violated international law and the Lacey Act, both of which protect the viability and health of native populations of animals,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim said.

The Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold.

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