HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Three former Blackfeet tribal leaders will serve three years of probation for holding illegal big-game hunts for country musicians that were filming an outdoors television show on the northwestern Montana reservation.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Thursday also ordered Jay St. Goddard, Jay Wells and Gayle Skunkcap Jr. to pay $56,625 in restitution.
Prosecutors filed an objection to Christensen's sentence after a lengthy hearing in Great Falls. They had recommended 15 months of prison for each man and a total of $68,625 paid back to the tribe.
The trio earlier pleaded guilty to holding four hunts in 2010 and 2011 without the proper licenses and to using tribal funds and personnel to outfit and guide the musicians, including Josh Thompson, Justin Moore and Mark Cooke.
Prosecutors said the hunts amounted to an illegal sale of the tribe's wildlife. The hunts caused internal struggles within the tribe and ended many future business prospects for the Blackfeet, according to the sentencing memo by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carl Rostad and Ryan Weldon filed before Thursday's hearing.
The men said proceeds would support cancer patients, which they did not, and they acted as though they were above the law, Rostad and Weldon said.
"They were the big men on campus, walking around with Country Western stars and shooting tribal resources at their own leisure and pleasure," the prosecutors said.
St. Goddard was ousted from the governing Blackfeet Tribal Business Council last year. Wells is a suspended councilman. Skunkcap was the tribe's Fish and Game director.
Their attorneys asked for one year of probation for each man because none personally profited from the hunts and they had only intended to benefit the tribe. Exposure on the satellite television show "Sovereign Sportsman" had a production and advertising value of nearly $50,000 for the tribe and the free concerts put on by the musicians generated money and publicity for the Blackfeet, the lawyers said.
The men did not mean to harm the tribe, attorneys Scott Hilderman, Thane Johnson and Edward Guiterrez-Falla wrote in their joint sentencing memo.
"The three Defendants had good intentions. They just went about it in the wrong fashion," the attorneys wrote.
Dozens of relatives, friends and business associates sent the judge letters of support for the three men.
The tribal council urged the judge to send a message to those who would violate the laws of the tribe.
"This is not a case of one faction of the Blackfeet people fighting another faction. This is a case of out and out criminality, using the Tribal resources for personal gain and notoriety," the four active tribal council members wrote.
None of the musicians or producers of the show were charged.
Thompson's 2010 debut album is titled "Way Out Here." Moore's "Outlaws Like Me" was a top 10 country album in 2011. Cooke's single "Any Way The Wind Blows" cracked the top 60 in Billboard's country charts. Country star John Michael Montgomery also performed a free concert on the reservation, but a scheduling conflict prevented him from returning for a hunt.