July 26, 2011

By Linda McNatt, PilotOnline.com

In hunting magazines and at outdoor shows up and down the East Coast, hunters were offered the chance of a lifetime: pay $3,000 and be guaranteed to bag a black bear – one in the 500-pound range – from the Great Dismal Swamp.

For almost 10 years, Randy Butler and Thomas Neal operated Virginia Guide Service. For most of that time, the men were being investigated by the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

In Circuit Court on Monday, they entered plea agreements with the state for breaking Virginia’s hunting laws and baiting black bears on a leased 3,187-acre wooded tract near the Suffolk landfill and U.S. 58 – directly across the highway from the Dismal Swamp.

Butler, who owned the company, and Marks, the employee, were initially charged with five counts each of buying or selling a wild animal or bird.

Butler, of Virginia Beach, pleaded guilty to two counts of instigating others to trespass and three counts of “hunt over bait to take a wild animal.” Fines of $6,500 will be suspended once Butler pays $7,500 restitution to the state Game Protection Fund and a fine of $6,200 to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Both fines must be paid within a year of his plea agreement. Butler also is banned for three years from hunting and from offering bears for hunts.

Marks, of Courtland, pleaded guilty to three counts of hunt over bait and was fined $1,500. Marks was prosecuted by Cara Oxenham, a special prosecutor from Chesapeake.

Suffolk prosecutor Susan Walton, assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said the men used dog food, crabs, deer carcasses and even doughnuts as bait to lure the animals to the property they leased.

“It is against the law to put out bait to draw animals in,” Walton said.

“They were just selling the opportunity to kill a bear. Any hunter will tell you that bears are fat, and they’re lazy. If somebody provides a food source, they’ll keep coming back to it.”


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