Lee Marvin Greenly was co-defendant with country singer Troy Gentry in captive bear-killing case
SANDSTONE, Minnesota––Former Minnesota Wildlife Connection owner Lee Marvin Greenly, 62, is now facing a felony count of receiving stolen property for allegedly stealing a Bobcat, the mechanical kind that starts with a capital letter.
Greenly, long notorious for operating a roadside zoo “photo op” business that doubled as a “canned hunt” for celebrities, was charged, the Pine County News reported, “after police tracked a stolen Bobcat to a wooded area in Sandstone.
“The complaint states a Chisago County deputy took a report of a stolen Bobcat,” the Pine County News said. “A rented Bobcat valued at $69,000, along with a bucket valued at $1,400, and skid steer forks valued at $1,000 had been stolen from a construction site in Shafer, Minnesota, overnight.”
Caught by GPS & fresh tracks
What the alleged thief did not know was that the stolen Bobcat could be tracked by Global Positioning System coordinates.
Pine County deputies soon found the stolen Bobcat.
“The attachments were not with it,” the Pine County News continued. “Fresh tracks led deputies to a driveway on Old Military Road in Sandstone, which they knew to be the residence of Greenly.”
There one of the deputies “noticed a stump remover attachment for a skid steer near the driveway. The deputy was aware that Greenly was the suspect in a theft of a stump remover case from September 2022. After reviewing a photo of the stolen stump remover, it was confirmed to be the same piece of equipment.”
Obtaining a search warrant, Pine County deputies found the rest of the missing equipment.
“If convicted,” the Pine County News concluded, “Greenly could face a maximum jail sentence of five years or $10,000, or both.”
“Operating unlawfully for years”
Recounts a PETA web site, “The Minnesota Wildlife Connection, run by Lee Greenly, has been operating unlawfully for years, and has a long history of violating federal animal welfare and wildlife protection laws.
“Greenly,” for example, “was convicted of falsifying records after claiming that a bear named Cubby, whom he had arranged for a country music singer to slaughter in a confined area with a bow and arrow, was lawfully hunted. His [USDA license to exhibit animals] was subsequently revoked,” for 22 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, “but that hasn’t deterred him from continuing to exhibit animals illegally,” PETA said.
After Greenly lost his USDA permit in 2013, he also lost a 2014 appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and lost an appeal for a pardon from then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
The Cubby case, however, originating in 2004, echoed in politics long before that.
In 2010, North Dakota ballot Measure 2, seeking to ban hunting deer and elk within high fences, failed statewide but passed in the eastern third of the state.
Contributing to the regional split in the North Dakota voting may have been intensive local exposure during the week before the November 2010 election of a videotape of country music star Troy Gentry killing Cubby at Minnesota Wildlife Connection.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK] posted the video to YouTube on October 25, 2010, after winning a three-year legal battle to obtain it from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
No Teddy Roosevelt
The video had been used as evidence supporting federal charges brought against Gentry in 2006.
The background, explained SHARK founder Steve Hindi, was that Gentry bought Cubby from Minnesota Wildlife Connection, owned by Greenly, for $4,650, “and then filmed himself shooting an arrow into the poor animal, all the while pretending the bear was wild and even dangerous.”
“Gentry testified on November 27, 2006,” Associated Press reported, “that he bought the bear from Greenly with the understanding they would videotape a hunt inside the bear’s three-acre enclosure, which was surrounded by an electric fence. They also agreed to report that the bear was killed in the wild six miles east of Sandstone, instead of on Greenly’s property south of the town.”
Copped a plea
Initially charged with felony violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits transporting illegally obtained wildlife across state lines, Gentry later pleaded guilty to improperly tagging a game animal, was fined $15,000, agreed to give up hunting, fishing and trapping in Minnesota for five years, and forfeited both Cubby’s hide and the bow he used to kill Cubby.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife spokeswoman Sandy Cleva told Paul Walsh of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the agency objected to releasing the video out of concern for the privacy rights of Gentry and Greenly.
Washington D.C. attorney Bill Eubanks, representing SHARK, told Walsh that the judge in the case ruled that the “privacy interests were quite minimal” because parts of the video were “already shown on national television, and they had planned to use it for a country music video.”
50,000 viewers in less than a week
Attracting 50,000 viewers in less than a week, the SHARK posting and clips from the Gentry video were amplified on November 1, 2010 by the investigative television series Inside Edition, drew attention from other upper Midwest broadcast media, and received prominent coverage from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Grand Forks Herald, and Associated Press.
The eastern third of North Dakota receives broadcast news coverage from the Minnesota media that aired the story.
Web searches indicated that as of election day, November 2, 2010, that killing Cubby was mentioned in about 17% of all online items pertaining to Troy Gentry, and 70% of recent postings.
Band Montgomery Gentry went downhill
The band Montgomery Gentry, consisting of Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery, had more than 20 recordings on the Billboard Hot Country Songs list before Gentry was convicted of killing Cubby, including five songs that went to #1 and ten others than made the top 10.
After Gentry was convicted, their most successful song peaked at #8 on the charts. Two others rose to #32 and #44.
SHARK around the same time exposed a video that showed another country singer, Miranda Lambert, killing a baby alligator “just for the fun of it…for pleasure.”
The National Enquirer picked up the story, with a photo, but her career survived and thrived.
Gentry, meanwhile, died in a helicopter crash on September 8, 2017.
Posed as heroes for wildlife
Before the Cubby episode, Greenly and Gentry had actually managed to pose as heroes for wildlife.
“Greenly grew up in Sandstone,” gushed the Brainerd Dispatch on January 18, 2002. “As a child, he brought home abandoned baby squirrels, rabbits, and birds, and nursed them to health. Now his wife Sandy and their three children share their home with as many as 60 baby animals each spring, imprinting them on people and teaching them how to behave” as inmates at Minnesota Wildlife Connection.
“More than 90% of the Greenly’s animals are born and raised on their farm, raised by hand through their infancy in their concrete-floored kitchen,” the Brainerd Dispatch said.
17 starving deer
Public concern rose in 2003 about the plight of 17 allegedly starving deer, including a 23-point buck named Bob, who were “trapped inside a Minneapolis water works site in Columbia Heights,” wrote Jason Hoppin of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “since security concerns raised by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks prompted the agency to seal the fence.”
A one-day bow hunt on December 31, 2003 thinned the herd, but “was met with a predawn protest by area residents,” who had fed the deer and named them, Hoppin recounted.
Gentry then offered to “underwrite the deer’s transfer to Minnesota Wildlife Connection,” Hoppin continued. “But on the permit, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources specified that the deer couldn’t be exhibited,” consistent with “state law that prohibits the exhibition of deer who are taken from the wild and become captive herds.”
Helped by Minnesota legislature
“Lee Greenly, owner of Minnesota Wildlife Connection, said he could not take the deer under those conditions,” Hoppin said.
The deer were transferred anyway in February 2005, with an assist from the Minnesota legislature.
According to the April 30, 2017 edition of Quartz, the Minnesota Wildlife Connection menagerie then included “a black bear, five cougars, 20 wolves, 46 foxes, and a 2,000-pound bison, along with a bevy of smaller animals.
“Before getting into the game farm business over 30 years ago,” Quartz said, “Greenly worked part-time as an animal caretaker at a zoo in Hinckley, Minnesota,” possibly the for-profit Center for Endangered Cats, founded by Cynthia Lee Gamble, who was killed on April 6, 2006, at age 52 by one of her tigers.
“Growing distaste for staged photos”
“Eventually, Greenly bought some animals from the zoo and started breeding and training them on his own,” Quartz continued, “sometimes selling new cubs back to the zoo or renting them out. A few years later, some photographers started paying him to take pictures of the animals and his business “exploded,’” Greenly told Quartz.
But keeping wildlife for the use of photographers and film makers collapsed, Greenly complained to Quartz, after “the internet made it possible for producers to access and manipulate cheap stock photography or footage of animals.”
Said Greenly, “People used to come and film a wolf running to the woods, and then put it into a movie, where now they can just do an animation.”
Observed Quartz, “Then there’s the growing distaste for staged photos altogether,” and the reality that after the 2013 federal license revocation, Minnesota Wildlife Connection was operating illegally despite holding a Minnesota state license to possess wildlife.