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They found Prock, all right, and a bear cornered in a stand of lodgepole pine. Bill Poole killed it. An hour later the dogs bayed another bear, and it was up to Beebe to shoot it. "I did," Beebe recalls, "but I'm not a damned bit proud that I did. When it tumbled out of the tree I saw that its hide was badly rubbed. In April a bear should be fresh out of hibernation, with a hide as thick and glossy as an Afghan rug. I wondered then about the scrapes—that they might have been the result of caging. And just as I never had the guts to say no and let that bear go, I never had the guts to ask Prock if the bear had been a released animal."
One hunter who did have the guts to say no to a Prock setup was Roy L. Goulart, a real-estate magnate from El Cajon, Calif. On the morning of Feb. 19, 1973 Goulart was offered a shot at a jaguar cornered by Prock's dogs in the Apache Creek area. Goulart refused the shot: the cat was too small for his taste. Prock was dismayed, but that night he brought another cat—this time a good-sized one—into Goulart's sights. Goulart took it. Like so many of the men who hunted with Prock, Goulart had been told that the matter of licenses and permits had already been taken care of out of their down payment. After all, with a $3,500 price tag on a jaguar, one assumes that the nitty-gritty details of the hunt have been looked after by the guide. In point of fact, Goulart had no license, and thus his name appeared in the indictment, though not as one of those indicted.
Most of the detective work in the case was performed by Nando Mauldin, 46, formerly assistant chief of wildlife enforcement for the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and now an administrative staff officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During his nearly 19 years with the department Mauldin was the busiest buster of game-law violators in New Mexico's history. But the Prock case was probably the biggest—and surely the most scandalous—of his career. It came to his attention after a federal wildlife agent in Spokane, Dale Home, discovered some jaguar hides sent from New Mexico in the inventory of the Knopp Bros. Taxidermy Studio. Home knew there were no wild jaguars in New Mexico and the investigation came into Mauldin's hands.
Under the Lacey Act, which prohibits interstate transportation of unlawfully taken wild animals, Prock was liable to a $10,000 fine and /or a year in prison for each of his alleged violations. On the conspiracy charge the penalties are the same. Moreover, courts usually look sternly at second offenders: Prock had been convicted of a Lacey Act violation in Arizona on June 19, 1964 when a U.S. District Court judge fined him $300 and suspended a 90-day prison sentence, at the same time forbidding Prock any further guiding in Arizona.
Despite Prock's past performance, Judge Anderson was remarkably lenient. He fined Prock $5,000 and sentenced him to a year in prison, plus two years probation, on the conspiracy charge—then suspended all of that sentence except for a $2,000 fine.
"You bet your life I'm mad," exclaimed Rick Smith, the young Albuquerque-based Assistant U.S. Attorney who had prepared the original indictment and who had rather naively gone along with the plea-bargaining settlement by which Prock avoided trial on the five charges involving the cats themselves. "The $2,000 fine works out to less than the sales taxes Prock would have paid for that amount of hunting. If I'd said no to the plea, and even if we had lost on all six counts, still we would have punished him financially—just in the legal costs—far more than this fine does. I feel terrible about it."
What makes not only Smith but everyone else involved in the investigation feel even worse is the fact that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish spent between $10,000 and $20,000 on the case, not including Investigator Nando Mauldin's time. Citing the "extremely flagrant nature" of the crimes, the department's director, Ladd S. Gordon, said, "We recognize that the courts are under certain constraints, but we in the wildlife profession feel that the most effective way to minimize these serious types of violations lies in considerably greater penalties being assessed." Gordon left unstated the fear that every outdoorsman who respects game and the game laws must feel: If a man like C.J. Prock can get away with that kind of game law violation with a mere slap on the wrist, what incentive is there for investigative agencies and men like Mauldin and Home to continue their work? And what real hope is there left for endangered species like the jaguar?