An Anchorage gaming guide and gun-shop owner has pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor guiding violations from an initial array of 17, receiving largely suspended penalties in a case dating back at least three years.
In a Thursday AST dispatch, troopers say the remaining 13 charges against 60-year-old Jim West, owner and operator of both the Klutina Lodge and Anchorage gun store Wild West Guns, were dismissed as part of his agreement with prosecutors. He was originally charged in November with misdemeanors ranging from committing, aiding or allowing a violation of law as a guide to guiding a hunt on private land.
“West pleaded guilty to being a guide while committing or aiding a client illegally taking a moose in 2009, taking game while guiding clients in 2011, and for not removing bear baiting stations in 2011 and 2012,” troopers wrote.
West, a photogenic presence in the state’s guiding and firearms circles, has a Discovery Channel reality show, “Wild West Alaska.” In a description of the show on its website, producers say West leads a team of workers who “build weapons for every situation -- from everyday hunting to the unique demands of Alaskan life off-the-grid.” Channel 2 interviewed West in April about local shortages of .22 long rifle ammunition.
With many of the charges in the original case dropped, the final sentence against West was relatively light compared to the initial range of charges, some of which included maximum fines of up to $30,000 on conviction. Troopers had also seized a Cessna 185 small plane allegedly used in committing the guiding offenses.
“West was sentenced to a total of $40,000 (in fines) with $32,000 suspended; a two-year suspension of his guiding license with that time suspended by the court; 20 days in jail with 20 suspended; 80 hours community work service; and three years of probation,” troopers wrote. “The Cessna 185 seized during the investigation will be returned to West.”
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Brent Johnson says the case ended abruptly Wednesday, when both sides arrived in Glennallen District Court ready for trial and West's side approached prosecutors for negotiations. While issues such as the fate of West's plane, his guiding license and the status of his travel on Alaska Native lands were all considered, Alaska's changing legal landscape also played a role in the plea agreement.
"The state realized, I think, that some recent court decisions made near trial meant that the forfeiture of Mr. West's airplane would not become a reality," Johnson said.
According to Johnson, troopers evaluate potential seizures based on factors such as the possibility of them being used in an ongoing criminal enterprise -- at first a concern in the West case. They're also considered based on whether prosecutors have a reasonable chance of seizure of the items involved, and troopers believed when the case was filed that they had good odds of doing so.
"Otherwise, we don't want to inconvenience people by seizing their stuff," Johnson said.
The West case and others, such as 72-year-old Ronald Martin's forfeiture of a Piper PA-18 Super Cub in a Haines guiding case, have prompted some claims that troopers have targeted aircraft for seizure to add to their own fleet. Johnson, however, says that the Department of Public Safety already has more than 40 aircraft and would have to inspect and certify any additions.
"I'm not aware of any forfeited aircraft that we have received," Johnson said. "Typically, they are put up for auction."
West's attorney, Brent Cole, tells the Associated Press that his client has suffered a tremendous loss to his reputation and business for what amounted to paperwork violations. Cole says claims of trespass were dismissed and never should have been filed.