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Man Pleads Guilty To Trafficking, Cloning Asian Sheep

A Vaughn man pleaded guilty Tuesday, March 12, to two federal wildlife felonies for running an illegal operation to clone the world’s largest horned sheep and breed hybrid sheep that he sold to game ranches in other states.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and to one count of violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits people from selling, transporting or buying wildlife through interstate commerce if the transportation or sale violated federal law.

Schubarth was charged last month by federal prosecutors after entering into a plea agreement in which he agreed to cooperate with an investigation into the operation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana said Schubarth conspired with at least five others in the operation between 2013 and 2021.

According to court documents, Schubarth illegally imported part of a Marco Polo argali sheep killed in Kyrgyzstan into the U.S., a species that is internationally protected, is listed under the Endangered Species Act and is prohibited in Montana. He paid to have a lab create cloned embryos from the animal’s DNA, which he implanted into ewes on his ranch.

One of the embryos, a genetically pure Marco Polo argali, was born and named “Montana Mountain King,” whose semen Schubarth used to impregnate hybrid sheep by breeding them with other types of sheep that are banned in Montana. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the group wanted to create bigger and more valuable sheep for captive hunting ranches, primarily in Texas.

He and the others forged veterinary inspection certificates, according to court records, and Schubarth also sold the pure sheep’s semen to other breeders.

Schubarth also bought parts of wild-hunted Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Montana, a violation of state law, and sold parts of the animals to people in other states.

“The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Chief of Enforcement Ron Howell. “This was a complex case and the partnership between us and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was critical in solving it.”

Schubarth is scheduled to be sentenced July 11. He faces up to five years in prison for each count, though part of his plea agreement with prosecutors said the government will recommend a lower sentence as long as Schubarth continues to cooperate.

The plea deal also stipulated that Schubarth pay a fine to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and to quarantine any foreign or hybrid animals so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can inspect and neuter them.

“This was an audacious scheme to create massive hybrid sheep species to be sold and hunted as trophies,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, part of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “In pursuit of this scheme, Schubarth violated international law and the Lacey Act, both of which protect the viability and health of native populations of animals.”

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