Former TV pitchman pleads guilty in owl harassment case

AP News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2015 7:34 PM
Former TV pitchman pleads guilty in owl harassment case

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former TV pitchman in Utah accused of kicking a barn owl in flight while riding a motorized paraglider pleaded guilty to the charges Friday, one day after a proposed plea deal fell through when he refused to admit to the crime.

In an unplanned hearing Friday afternoon, Dell "Super Dell" Schanze, 45, surprisingly pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of knowingly using an aircraft to harass wildlife and pursuing a migratory bird, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Schanze to one year of court probation. He also ordered him to give up his parasail and forbid Schanze from landing his paraglider in a federally designated Wilderness Area.

U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen said in a statement Schanze showed "showed utter disregard for this protected bird."

Schanze's attorney, Kent Hart, declined comment.

Schanze is known in Utah for his shrill, hyperactive TV commercials for his Totally Awesome Computers retail chain that has since closed. He unsuccessfully ran for political office, including a Libertarian bid for governor.

On Thursday in a hearing set for him to accept a plea deal, he balked at accepting the facts of the case, saying it made him seem like an evil, horrible guy.

Benson gave Schanze several opportunities to accept the deal. But the judge ultimately ended the hearing and ordered the case to trial, which was set to begin on April 20.

The charges, filed in October, came after a federal investigation into a video that surfaced online last year and appeared to show a paraglider kicking a soaring owl and boasting about it. The incident happened February or March of 2011, prosecutors said.

Schanze's paragliding had previously run afoul of the law. In 2006, he was charged with disorderly conduct after flying low near Interstate 15 at rush hour. He kissed the feet of a fan who paid his $300 fine in the case.

Five years later, Schanze was arrested in Oregon after allegedly jumping off the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column. He said outside the jail that the government was stifling his creativity.