Two central-Minnesota men were fined and will temporarily lose their trapping and small-game hunting privileges after pleading guilty to an illegal snaring operation that authorities said resulted in the taking of seven wolves, two black bears and numerous deer in Itasca County.
Brad Allen Dumonceaux, 47, and Stephen Gerard Bemboom, 63, also were ordered to forfeit all snares, cables and other materials that were seized by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources during its years-long investigation of the case.
After a forester discovered the neglected snares in the Alvwood area, south of Northome, DNR conservation officers were able to document the kills and set up cameras that later captured Dumonceaux and Bemboom removing the animals, according to formal charges filed in April 2018.
Authorities said the men did not possess proper permits for the big-game kills, and the seven wolf deaths all came after a December 2014 ruling putting the animals under Endangered Species Act protection. Additionally, state law requires that snare lines be checked daily.
Dumonceaux and Bemboom were each charged in State District Court in Grand Rapids with 67 counts ranging from petty misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors.
The defendants on Thursday both pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and three petty misdemeanors, with the remaining counts dismissed by the Itasca County Attorney's Office. Each were ordered to pay fines and fees totaling $3,900 and placed on one year of unsupervised probation.
While both will surrender trapping and small-game rights for one year, their previously suspended big-game and fishing privileges were restored upon sentencing.
According to court documents:
Conservation Officer Randy Patten was alerted to multiple wolves found in snares on public land April 29, 2015. The forester led Patten to a bait site, where he found three dead wolves and another that had to be euthanized due to poor health.
Also found in the area were "ribcages and other bones from what appeared to be more than 30 butchered whitetail deer."
Patten found three additional snares that had been set, each in excess of the 10-inch limit set by state law and lacking required identification tags. He collected one snare for evidence and closed the other two.
Patten and fellow Conservation Officer Jayson Hansen returned five days later, finding that each of the four wolves had been removed from the snares and hidden under a tree. Additionally, the two snares that were closed by Patten had been removed.
While on scene, the conservation officers discovered a deer that had died in a snare. Also found was a beaver that had been shot in the head but not reported to the DNR as required.
Patten later set up two cameras and made several trips to the bait site over the course of more than a year. By June 2016, he discovered six additional snares containing two additional dead wolves. One of the cameras had malfunctioned, and the new snares were apparently set after the second camera's memory card had become full.
In February 2017, Patten returned to the site, finding a second snared deer and checking the cameras. On the memory cards, he reported finding images of Dumonceaux and Bemboom placing and resetting the snares Nov. 27, 2016. Patten knew both men from previous contacts, as Dumonceaux owns a cabin less than a mile away.
The surveillance continued, with Patten finding photos of additional visits by the two men in February and March 2017. On April 6, the conservation officer found a seventh dead wolf at the site, along with four additional snares that had been set. A dead coyote, which is unprotected in Minnesota, also was located around that time.
On May 18, 2017, Patten and Lt. Jeff Koehn found two black bears — a sow and its cub — dead in separate snares. A review of the cameras found that the defendants had not been on site since March 12, and that the sow had been captured by a paw and lived for at least 19 days before dying.
No further human activity was observed at the site over the next 11 months. In early April 2018, conservation officers obtained a search warrant for Dumonceaux's property and confronted the two men.
Dumonceaux agreed to speak, admitting to setting the snares and not having checked them in nearly a year. When informed that he would be charged criminally, Dumonceaux replied: "Well, I got it coming."
Dumonceaux reportedly asked why the investigation had taken so long and why the conservation officer had not called earlier to tell him to "knock that (expletive) off." Patten explained that he could not be sure that it was them, or that they would cooperate with the investigation, making it necessary to gather additional evidence.
"My stomach's sick," Dumonceaux reportedly said as the conservation officer outlined his documentation. "Feel like I'm gonna cry. I'm (expletive) shaking, man."
Bemboom also admitted to failing to check the snares daily, but officers said he repeatedly attempted to minimize his actions. He initially claimed that only coyotes had been trapped, but later claimed he was aware of two wolves that had been removed from the snares. He claimed to have no knowledge of the additional wolves or of the bears or deer.
Authorities said the claims were contradicted by the surveillance images, which showed Dumonceaux and Bemboom to be together each time the cameras captured human activity at the site.
Bemboom was convicted in 2016 of failing to tend to a trap in Becker County in western Minnesota. According to the citation in that case, Bemboom admitted that he and Dumonceaux neglected a trap where conservation officers found a bloated and decomposed beaver.