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Northwest Montana man admits tampering with evidence in grizzly bear killing

Ronan woman sentenced to prison for embezzling from company, evading taxes
Posted at 12:15 PM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 14:15:16-05

MISSOULA — A Troy man has admitted that he tampered with evidence in the shooting of a grizzly bear on his property in 2020 and discarded the animal’s GPS collar in the Yaak River, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich announced.

Othel Lee Pearson, 80, appeared for arraignment on Thursday, February 15, 2024, on an amended information charging him with tampering with evidence, a felony, and with failure to report taking of grizzly bear, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to both charges.

Pearson faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the evidence tampering charge and a maximum of six months in prison and a $25,000 fine on the failure to report charge.

A plea agreement filed in the case calls for the government and defendant to jointly recommend to the court a sentence of three years of probation and an $8,000 fine, which is the restitution amount for illegally killing a grizzly bear under Montana state statute.

In exchange for guilty pleas, the government agrees not to prosecute another individual in connection with the taking of the grizzly bear, and Pearson agrees to cooperate with the United States regarding the skull of a second grizzly bear discovered on U.S. Forest System lands near his property, according to a news release.

As alleged in amended court documents, on November 19, 2020, Pearson shot and killed a sow grizzly bear on his residential property, using a .270 rifle.

Pearson cut a GPS collar that had been fitted to the bear and discarded the collar nearby in the Yaak River. Pearson also cut paws, ear tags and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear carcass.

Pearson then concealed the bear’s claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on National Forest System land near his residence. Prosecutors further alleged that meat from the bear was discovered in Pearson’s freezer inside his home.

Pearson attempted to — and did — tamper with these identifying objects to impair the criminal prosecution for failing to report the taking of a grizzly bear.

Pearson killed the bear either in self-defense, in defense of others or unlawfully, according to prosecutors. Pearson also did not report the killing of the grizzly bear to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within five days.

A sentencing date has been set for June 6. Pearson was released pending further proceedings.

U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy presided at the plea hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Tanner is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation.