Claim victory despite accepting penalties totaling $138,000
OMAHA, Nebraska––Charged in July 2020 with six counts each of violating the Lacey Act, the U.S. federal law prohibiting interstate wildlife offenses, self-promoted online celebrity bowhunters and physical fitness gurus Josh and Sarah Bowmar for more than two years squawked defiance.
(See Celebrity bowhunters Josh & Sarah Bowmar face justice in Nebraska.)
33 codefendants copped pleas earlier
Even after 33 codefendants pleaded guilty, Josh and Sarah Bowmar promised in videos and on social media to overturn the Lacey Act, enforced since 1900, in an epic court battle on behalf of hunters everywhere.
On October 19, 2022, however, the Bowmars withdrew their previous pleas of “Not guilty,” entered when they were charged, and rather than go to their initially requested jury trial, copped pleas to misdemeanor conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.
The plea bargains came in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping the remaining charges against them.
Pleas come with a price
But the Bowmars did not exactly skate home free.
According to the plea bargain agreements, each defendant further agrees “to the entry of a monetary judgement against him [her] in the amount of $44,000, and agrees that such sum is proceeds from the conspiracy to possess, transport, or sell fish or wildlife alleged” in the charges.
Further, “Persuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the parties agree” they “shall not hunt or otherwise engage in any activities associated with hunting, limited to within the District of Nebraska, as a special condition for the entire term of his [her] probation or term of supervised release, whichever is applicable.”
In addition, each defendant “agrees to a $25,000 fine with payments directed to Lacey Act Reward Account to be paid at time of sentencing.
Showing no shame
“Sentencing is scheduled for January 12, 2023,” at which time the judge may either ratify the plea bargain or reject it, possibly to impose stiffer sentences including up to a year in prison for each defendant.
Most defendants in most cases likely would not be crowing, after accepting federal convictions and penalties amounting to $138,000, but the Bowmars have notoriously shown no shame during their relatively brief careers as online celebrities and aggressive marketers of hunting and physical fitness paraphernalia.
“Sarah and I got accused of this way back in 2015-2016 (7 years ago),” Josh Bowmar said in an Instagram video. “The legal process finally ran its course and the truth has come to light. We can finally say our truth, that we never baited or poached any deer, and the U.S. government dismissed those charges against us.”
The truth may be that the U.S. government elected against prosecuting Josh and Sarah Bowmar for alleged baiting and poaching, having secured their conspiracy pleas, but the truth also includes that while the prosecution agreed to return the trophy remains of three deer to Josh Bowmar, he agreed to surrender the trophy remains of three others.
The Lacey Act case against the Bowmars, five years in development by federal and Nebraska state investigators, had by November 2020 netted guilty pleas to multiple federal and state charges from each of the other 33 defendants, including television hunting show star Rod Owen and Hidden Hills Outfitters co-owners Jacob and Conrad Hueftle, at whose Hidden Hills Outfitters hunting ranch most of the alleged offenses were said to have occurred.
Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon assessed penalties against the other 33 defendants for violations of the federal Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 totaling $580,302 in fines and restitution, 53 years in revoked hunting and fishing privileges, and forfeiture of trophies from as many as 97 animals who were allegedly illegally killed.
The victims included 30 white-tailed deer, 34 mule deer, six pronghorn antelope, and 27 wild turkeys.
The original grand jury charges against the Bowmars, reported Deer & Deerhunting when the charges were first made public, included multiple counts of illegal baiting, hunting without permits, and transporting illegally hunted animals across state lines.
“Case started with a tip”
According to Omaha World Herald reporter Nancy Gaarder, “The case started with a tip that investigators won’t divulge and was undertaken jointly by agents with Nebraska Game & Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The alleged perpetrators, Gaarder recounted, “shot animals who had been lured to them with bait and whose movements had been carefully scrutinized via trail cameras. Some used rifles during archery season. Others hunted at night and with spotlights. Or lacked a permit. Or shot animals from the road. Or lied about who killed their animal and how it was killed.
“To hide their actions from others, hunters sometimes put noise suppressors on their guns. And they sent their ill-gotten gains home, across state lines.
“Meat left to rot”
“The heads were cut off of some animals, with the meat left to rot,” Gaarder wrote. “Hidden Hills’ plea agreement says ‘J.H.’,” apparently Jacob Hueftle, “personally killed at least 100 nongame birds.”
Jacob Hueftle, Gaarder continued, had already “been convicted of violating federal hunting law and sentenced to probation for five years,” in 2012.
Nonetheless, Gaarder explained, “Later that year, he began operating Hidden Hills. Opening an outfitting business was legal under his probation, according to court documents, but he was banned from using weapons or killing animals himself — probation restrictions that he violated.”
But Hidden Hills Outfitters appears to have been promoted most successfully in videos produced by celebrity bowhunters, especially the Bowmars.
Speared a bear
Josh Todd Bowmar, 32, was a lifelong resident of Ohio before the couple in 2020 moved to Ankeny, Iowa.
Sarah Bowmar, 33, was born Sarah Elizabeth Bakian in South Bend, Indiana.
According to the Bowmar Archery web page, Josh and Sarah Bowmar, then purportedly a vegetarian and volunteer at the Toledo Area Humane Society in 2013-2014, met at a February 2014 bodybuilding competition.
By 2015 the Bowmars were a married couple, killing animals together and making videos about it.
On June 5, 2016, disclosed CBC staff reporter Verity Stevenson six weeks later, the Bowmars posted a video of Josh Bowmar “killing a black bear in Alberta with a spear,” which had a GoPro camera attached, to capture the death of the bear at the closest possible distance.
Left the bear overnight
Josh and Sarah Bowmar celebrated the spearing on camera.
“The video shows him returning the next day to retrieve the bear,” continued Stevenson, “who appeared to have been left overnight, ‘60 or 70 yards’ from where he was struck. The camera pans to the bear’s wound.”
The Bowmars had enjoyed sponsorship by the Under Armour underwear manufacturing company, but that came to a quick end three days after Stevenson’s broadcast.
The Bowmars have charged ever since that they were victims of a “leftist” conspiracy.
Spearing now banned in Alberta & 45 states
A gap in Alberta hunting laws precluded successfully prosecuting the Bowmars for using an illegal weapon to kill the bear.
However, the Alberta Ministry of Environment & Parks, the Alberta Fish & Game Association, and the Alberta SPCA pushed for an amendment which since 2018 makes hunting with a prohibited weapon, including a spear, punishable with a fine of up to $50,000 Canadian dollars, plus a year in jail.
Hunting various animals with a spear, especially feral pigs, remains legal in four U.S. states: Alabama, Hawaii, Alaska, and Oklahoma.
Missouri allows the use of a spear thrown with an atlatl, a device similar in concept to the ball-thrower many people use to exercise dogs. Atlatls were used by hunters to kill animals, including bears, for at least 40,000 years, but largely fell out of use after the invention of more accurate weapons including longbows, crossbows, and firearms.
“Birthday Cake Protein Powder”
The Lacey Act case is not the only case currently hanging over the Bowmars.
On May 24, 2021, the California-based Consumer Products Association filed a lawsuit charging, wrote Anna Bradley-Smith of TopClassActions.com, that the Bowmar’s whey protein products sold under the Bowmar Nutrition label “provide substantially less protein than is stated on the federally mandated nutritional label and represented on the company’s website and social media advertising.”
Explained Bradley-Smith, “Bowmar makes various powders, bars, frostings, nut spreads, and snacks containing or derived from whey protein isolate,” in formulas including “Birthday Cake Protein Powder, Hazelnut Coffee Protein Powder, and Crunch Berry Almond Spread.”
Independent laboratory testing, the lawsuit alleged, found that “each serving of the products contains less than the represented amount of protein,” Bradley-Smith continued.
“The variances range from a 15% shortfall from stated values for the protein bars, through approximately a 50% shortfall for varieties of the nut spreads, to up to a 60% or more shortfall for the protein powders and frostings,” Bradley-Smith summarized.
Dismissals & refiling
That lawsuit “was dismissed,” Clark Kauffman of the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported in March 2022, “when a judge ruled the Consumer Products Association had not been harmed by the alleged fraud since it existed largely to investigate such matters.”
Ruled U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan, “The Consumer Products Association lacks standing here. An organization created to advance enforcement of labeling laws is not hampered in its mission because those laws are violated. Absent such violations, the organization would need a new mission.”
In October 2021, however, a dozen individual plaintiffs filed a similar class action lawsuit against Bowmar Nutrition. Several of their claims were dismissed in February 2022 on grounds that the case was filed after the statute of limitations for making them had expired, and on grounds that the individual purchasing decisions involved are not a proper basis for a class action lawsuit.
The plaintiffs were, however, allowed to refile and restate their claims.
Despite further motions for dismissal from the Bowmars, resolution of that case appears to be still pending.
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Laurella Desborough says
These types are a disgrace to actual hunters as they fail to follow reasonable laws and certainly work for personal fame and fortune from the promotion of their hunting activities. Also we take note of the fact that non game creatures were also killed. These people are shameful.
Jamaka Petzak says
These heartless killers are representative, and so typical, of the arrogant, callous, lying, uncaring extremists that pervade the top levels of our society and many others.
Sharing with gratitude and the usual thoughts and feelings, grateful to have both.